Building Consensus for 2012?
The Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation co-organised an evening seminar on "Building Consensus for 2012?" on 2 February 2010. Below are the texts of the speeches made by the guest speakers.
Ms Cyd HO Sau-lan:
Constitutional reform, actually, should not be designed to answer a timetable. It is not even an answer to an election pledge made by Donald Tsang. It should be a change to improve the governance and to answer the demand of the public. And therefore, if we were to look at any proposal by the administration or any political party, this proposal should be measured in such light of whether the power of the public will be increased, whether their wish and demand will be answered in the policy formulation process. And the best mechanism is of course, the democratic electoral system, with equal and universal suffrage. And on top of that, we need to ensure the independence of the judiciary, freedom of information and freedom of the press and of expression. And we have to look into the root of the grievances of the people and it is with such objective that we should go ahead with democratization.
And why would I say that the problems are so pressing? When we look at our higher education, we never had enough places for our qualified students. When we look at our housing, the price is increasing sharply without adequate balance on public housing supply. When we look at poverty and wealth disparity, it has been getting worse in the past decade. And we don't have a chief executive that could understand poverty. His definition of poverty is - anyone who qualifies for social security would be termed "poor". This answer is ridiculous, because if that person does not qualify for social security, then he is not poor enough and when he is qualified, then his problem is solved. With such logic, then there is no poverty in Hong Kong, but certainly this is not the case.
I am sure that democracy cannot solve the problem of poverty, especially, it cannot create wealth. It cannot solve the problem of absolute poverty but definitely it can help us get away from relative poverty. So, these pressing problems cannot wait. We should have a government accountable to the Hong Kong people by 2012. All these problems cannot wait for another decade, i.e. 2020. On top of that, Ms Elsie Leung came out to clarify that it is not even a definite promise that we will have universal suffrage even by 2020. The NPC decision in 2007 only said that we could consider - there might be a chance for - equal and universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020.
So, how do we get this problem solved? I would resort to "referendum", which might step on the raw nerve of the Central Government. But I would like to use an academic term - "Direct Democracy". For the guests present in the room, "Direct Democracy" will not be a stranger to you. But unfortunately in Hong Kong, we are not even half way to representative democracy, not to talk about "referendum" with people making a collective decision through the ballot box.
In the past year, the administration kept saying that the mainstream opinion is to support the "District Council Option" as presented in 2005. What they are saying is that the majority supports the "District Council Option". And then the democrats, on the other side, said, all through the past elections, we have 60% of the voters' support - so who's telling the truth and who's not? So the only scientific and objective method to chart public opinion would be a referendum.
"Direct Democracy" - let me try to pacify the mind of the Central Government - is not a matter of "separatism" or "independence". It is used in solving a lot of social or environmental issues. I'll give a very good example here. For example, when Panama was seeking support for building a second canal in the country, they resorted to referendum. The issue was one of irreversible damage to the environment versus very pressing need to increasing national income. So these important issues of long-term impact that could not be reversed are best resolved by referendum. So what if the damage to the environment proved to be dramatic and disastrous? There will be no one to blame other than the parents who made the decision.
So I would like to make use of this example for everyone who might be allergic to "Direct Democracy". It is the best way to reflect people's demands; it is also different from opinion polling by telephone, as telephone polling has random effects built in and respondents may also disguise their identity. Polling results cannot give us the true picture of what the community thinks.
Unfortunately, we do not have the legal framework for referendum in Hong Kong. Our administration is not authorized by law to conduct a referendum. However, it is not against laws in Hong Kong for legislators to resign and trigger a "referendum". So I hope the Hong Kong SAR Government will hold to its duty by holding a by-election as soon as possible. And I wish the Central Government would have more tolerance. After all, if the public does not support this idea, the democrats will be voted out. That is the beauty of democracy, because the voice of the public will be heard. Thank you.
Mrs Regina IP LAU Suk-yee:
It has been well documented, that the then colonial government decided to push democratic development after Sir Murray visited Beijing in 1979, and learnt in no uncertain terms, that there would be no question of extending British rule in Hong Kong after 1997. Be that as it may - in 1981, from that date onwards, Hong Kong started the long march to democracy. The issues to be settled, ultimately, are the timetable and the rules regarding the introduction of universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive and entire legislature. I think these are the last remaining issues. Leaving aside colonial history, the Basic Law does allow us to elect the chief executive and the legislature by universal suffrage ultimately, by election or selection … or some such wordings.
The "how" and "when" we could elect our Chief Executive and the entire Legco by Universal Suffrage may be the last gigantic issue dogging Hong Kong's political development . We have been arguing about that for more than twenty years. As a former government administrator and now a legislator, I feel that was unfortunate because internal bickering has really held back Hong Kong's social, economic and many other aspects of development.
I think it is not impossible to resolve these final remaining problems, especially as we have had, whether you like it or not, the decision by the NPC Standing Committee in December 2007, that we could indeed move forward to electing our CE by universal suffrage no sooner than 2017 and the entire Legco by 2020 at the soonest -- you may do so subject to certain conditions that I won't go into, because you are aware of the requirements, procedures and conditions which have to be met before we could move to universal suffrage, but the good thing is we finally have a timetable - two dates. And I think election of CE and Legco by universal suffrage is not a bridge too far. It is achievable. I think the last remaining road block for us to resolve is, on the CE, how to form the nominating committee provided in the Basic Law. I think Stephen Lam, when I attended a forum with him last weekend, did say that the current Election Committee could form a basis for the future Nomination Committee.
With regard to Legco, as we all know, the last remaining problem is how to deal with the Functional Constituencies. I personally believe that if we have universal suffrage, it should mean that political opportunity for all eligible candidates should be "equal"; and the right to vote should be "universal" and "equal" amongst the people. So it means that ultimately, Functional Constituencies will have to go. But how to do it - in stages or in one fell swoop is the bone of contention. But there is no doubt in my mind that FCs will have to go. There is no doubt in my mind that it will do the future CE a lot of good if he or she is elected by Universal Suffrage. In my view, a more competitive election will be more empowering as it would strengthen the CE's mandate, which rests on two legs under the Basic Law: he is appointed by Beijing under Article 45, and he is accountable to the Central People's Government as well as to the people of Hong Kong - the two sources of his mandate. We have now had two CEs appointed by Beijing and we know that how both have suffered or are suffering because of inadequate popular mandate. So personally, I think it will do the CE a lot of good if he or she is to go through a competitive process. The process will make him more accountable, while at the same time he has to be accountable to the Central People's Government.
The question is how to form the nomination committee. There are various models and I know that the Civic Party always argues that you should have a model with a low threshold, which will not rule out someone like Alan Leong. And I always wonder why they always mention Alan Leong but not Ronny Tong as I don't see why Ronny is less eligible than Alan Leong or Audrey. Anyway, the argument is that the threshold must be low enough to allow people from different parts of the political spectrum to take part.
But there is also the principle of "Balanced Participation" and the argument from the other side that the future CE has to be nominated by the entire Nominating Committee, that there has to be some sort of consensus coming out of the Committee and not just 100 or 200 people from one end of the spectrum. But I think this problem is relatively easy to resolve while how to deal with FCs is much harder.
I have said quite consistently in my electoral platform in 2007 and 2008 and also in my own response to the government's package, which I will unveil at the end of this week, that if you want to achieve "Balanced Participation", the way to resolve the FC situation is one-person-two-votes. One vote to elect your representative in your Geographical Constituency and then another vote to vote for Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories as one single constituency, so that you could allow people with no district base but well known in their profession, with a track record of public service - highly respected individuals who are trusted by Hong Kong people, such as Ronald Arculli or Allan Zeman who is a Chinese National. This will, in effect, retain two groups of representatives with different expertise and different backgrounds through this balanced system.
One-person-two-votes is not uncommon worldwide. Japan has it, Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand all have it. I can produce articles from the Journal of Democracy regarding the prevalence of this system. That is one way that could be the ultimate solution. But there are doubters and skeptics that without the FC representatives, who would defend the government or give the government the votes needed? It's a realistic issue that any government should consider - the votes needed to get the agenda through. And how do you ensure that the legislature will be composed of not just local representatives, but also people who understand financial services, or technology, or the professions. "Balanced Participation" is critical in a place like Hong Kong which has a highly skewed taxation system. We all know that the United States came into existence because of protest over "Taxation without Representation". And we now have an anti-tax "Tea Party" also because of the taxation problem.
In Hong Kong, we have the reverse, "Representation without Taxation". I know the perils of these remarks as they could be easily put to the effect that Regina Ip is advocating more taxation. But that is an entirely separate issue. The point I am trying to make is we do have to consider when you do not have enough people in the legislature the need to balance the budgets, the need to find a way to finance our burgeoning social services, how to manage our public finances, you will have to work out a realistic and practical system - not just one that is based on fussy logic or emotions.
And I noticed that Cyd Ho mentioned Elsie Leung, my former colleague. I noticed that Elsie mentioned that we could have the "New Nine Constituencies", the system advocated by Chris Patten before 1997 - a system to expand the franchise - made up of individual voters. This could be a disappointing throwback to a system proposed more than fifteen years ago. I am not advocating that - but that could be a transitional arrangement … if you want to make sure that our Legco has lawyers, accountants, doctors … people who understand finance. Given Hong Kong's future as International Financial Centre, people need to understand the economy, public finances, technology, education and all that. I can see the possibility of a transitional system with the current FCs replaced by much broader FCs composed of individual voters, ensuring that we get accountants, IT experts etc. eventually leading to a Legco returned by Universal Suffrage, under the one-person-two-votes system. That is my two cents. And I am open to your comments or questions. Thank you.
Mr Ronny TONG Ka-wah:
And there is not much point in talking about high-sounding principles like "Direct Democracy" - referendum. Because, there is no referendum to vote on a political package, you are only voting on "Grandma and Apple Pie", so what is the point? The nitty-gritty reality is what it would take to reach a consensus not only between the pro-government and the so called opposition, but also within the democrats, which is not happening at the moment.
So what do we do?
I would start from the opposite end of the telescope and say, what is there in the Government's package that is worth voting for? The devil is in the details and let us look at the package and try to analyze as quickly and as simply as possible. There are two sides to the package, one is dealing with the "selection" of the CE - "selection" is the word, not "election" under the Basic Law. And secondly, there is the election of the Legislative Council.
Let us look at the selection of the CE - what are the basic principles that everybody adheres to? If you look at Article 45, there are two elements there. Number one, there has to be a "widely representative" nomination committee which we don't have at the moment, and number two, there has to be a nomination process that is in accordance with "democratic principles". These are the two principles that are especially mentioned in Article 45. Now, how do we get there?
There is a consensus within Hong Kong that let us take the current Election Committee and turn it into the Nomination Committee. Fine, provided that it answers to the prescription of a widely representative Nomination Committee. But let us look at the current make-up. What I understand to be a widely representative Nomination Committee is that there should be members who are directly elected by the people of Hong Kong. What is the composition now? Does anybody know how many directly elected representatives are there? The answer is 30 out of 800. And the nomination threshold is 100, so it falls short of the nomination threshold by 70. Everybody else was elected from the so called "Small Circle Election", with the exception of the 42 members who are elected by District Council. Let us remember that - 42 members -- 21 from the Hong Kong District Council and 21 from the Kowloon District Council that includes the New Territories.
Now, what is the current proposal of the Government? They proposed to increase the number by 400. But the only democratic improvement the Government is willing to give is to increase the representatives from the District Council from 42 to 100. They say it is a quantum leap, but let's look at the numbers - there is only an increase of 58. So of course the current 42 are elected by the District Councils, including the appointed members. But the Government is saying it might do away with the appointed members, that is the bait. But at the end of the day, if you look at this Nomination Committee, you are still looking at 30 directly elected members and the increase of 58 indirectly elected members to be members of the Nomination Committee and the threshold will be increased from 100 to 150, so you're still falling far short of the nomination threshold. So if you ask me, it is not worth the paper it is written on. I can take it and I can leave it and I will prefer to leave it. If I take it, I lose my chance of getting something more, so no question about that there.
Next question: what about the Legislative Council? At the moment, the proposal is to increase directly elected members by five. They then say: let us have another five from the District Council. But, they are not going to tell you how these five will be elected. Let us not forget there is one representative from the District Council, Mr. Ip Kwok-him. Even if you take away the appointed members, how would the District Council representatives be elected?
Let us think about it. How many votes are needed to get one of them to become a Legislative Councilor? At least 100 if not 200 votes, which means that it is going to be monopolized by the largest political party within the structure. There is no prospect for an individual or a professional who wanted to be Legislative Councilor via the District route. He would not get himself elected unless he joins the DAB, let us face it. The second thing is, the Government does not tell you how the five are going to be elected. If it's a simple majority vote, then I can tell you that all five will be returned from the DAB. So what is there for the Democrats? We will lose our veto power, because we will be diluted by the increase in number from members of the pro-government parties. So there is not much there either. So if you ask me would you take it or leave it, I will definitely leave it. We all agree what the goal is, but we are not moving towards that.
So how much would be enough? I am a very modest person … compared with Emily … who's going to scold me. All I am asking is that you give me as much as you can within the framework of the NPC-SC's decision in December 2007. I am modest because I can't over throw it, not peacefully anyway. And I don't think the people of Hong Kong will go up in arms, despite the recent slogans of those advocating a referendum- "uprising" and "revolt" or "voting with a conscience". It is not going to happen. All I am asking is a reasonable request, to give the people of Hong Kong as much as you can give within the framework of the NPC-SC's decision. That means we're already limiting our demands to a very large extent.
Now, within that framework, what can the people of Hong Kong ask and what the HKSAR Government can give? I think what they can give is to increase democratic elements in the nomination committee and by that I don't mean giving us just an increase of 58 directly elected District Councilors. That is not on. There has to be, we hope, an increase in directly elected members - or alternatively as the Pan-Democrats have agreed in 2007, the inclusion of all 400 directly elected District Council members. That is certainly possible and not against the NPC-SC's decision; or alternatively, to lower the threshold. It all depends on how many democratic members you're introducing to the committee - give us 400 directly elected members, we might be happy to live with a nomination threshold of 150. It is all relative. You have got to look at the entire package, so you can't say definitely we want 100 or 150.
What about the Legislative Council? The one thing that I want or the people of Hong Kong want is to destroy the myth of the FCs. What I have been advocating for over a year is the abolition of the split voting system - something that is a creature of Annex II, not the Basic Law itself. Annex II provides for split voting, everybody knows that it is a symbol of the privilege of FCs. Often, on livelihood issues in the past, FCs can basically veto the majority vote of Legco. It is the epitome of their political power. It is the downfall of FCs. When can we do that? NPC-SC said you can't change it between now and 2016. I don't like it. Nobody likes it. But this is a decision that cannot be changed unless we go for an "uprising" or "revolt" - we can't change that. So give us abolition of the "Split Voting" by 2016. You can do it easily, you can do it today by proposing an amendment to Annex II by introducing a phrase in front of the paragraph which deals with "Split Voting" - for example, inserting the words "Before 2016…". By introducing those words of amendment, you can then get rid of the "symbol" of the privileged class in one stroke of a pen today.
The second thing we want is to increase the directly elected members in proportion to FCs. If you don't want to abolish them, in stages or all at once, the thing to do is to limit their power within the Council. And when can we do that, of course by 2016 also, because NPC-SC only provides this "straitjacket" between now and 2016. Those three things, I believe, will answer the question of: how much is enough. I sincerely hope that the Pan-Democrats can all get together and agree this is the one demand they make. Because if they make all kinds of demands or demands that are realistically unattainable under the current political structure and climate, it would simply give an excuse to the Central Government to say: I can't give you that. And so the whole thing is off.
This is one of the reasons why I am against the so call referendum thing, because it gives them a perfect excuse not to talk to you. And why do we want to do that? Why use slogans which give the perfect excuse not to get to the same conference table? And at the end of the day, voting on "Grandma and Apple Pie" will achieve so little. The important thing right now is to focus on the content of the political reform. Over the past six months, if you read the newspaper or turn on the radio, all they talk about is referendum, resignation of five LegCo members. And everyone has forgotten why the present political reform package is not acceptable.
And quite frankly, this is the only opportunity I could talk to members of the public about the package. When I was invited on a radio programme recently, I can only talk about political reform with only about ten minutes to go.
Ms Emily LAU Wai-hing:
And the topic for this evening is "Building Consensus for 2012?" We want direct elections in 2012. And we would love to build consensus. Not just within the Democratic Party or within the Pan-Democrats, but within the whole community. And I speak as someone with very strong credentials on building consensus within Legco before and after 1997. I worked with the various political parties to form cross-party alliances on every issue - pollution, economic matters, particularly after "9-11", we worked together well for a number of years. Of course, we could not work on the political thing. But that was good foundation, we even had institutionalized the process - meaning every month, each party would take it in turn to convene meetings in order to sort out whatever that need sorted out. It worked quite well.
And then Beijing got very upset. C.H. Tung got very upset. Why, because this challenges the -- so called -- "Executive-led Government". But the trouble is that the "Executive" is incapable of leading, especially after "9-11". I knew C.H. would not do anything. So I said to James Tien: Jimmy, we got to do something to get us out of this economic mess. He agreed and I asked the Liberal Party to convene a meeting for all the political parties. He did and within weeks, we put together an economic package which was later put into the budget. So I speak as someone who has strong credentials on building consensus. I have told C.H, Donald Tsang and countless policy secretaries, that is what we need in Hong Kong is to build a consensus within Legco so that the Administration can move forward. We now have seven, eight or nine parties in Legco. And this is the result of our electoral method.
So how do we get consensus? We don't want gridlock. You may think Emily Lau is just trying to divide or trying to create trouble. But I am someone who is very keen to build consensus. I know politics is about the art of compromise. But on certain things, it not as if we refused to compromise - we have been compromising for decades. Look at Ackers-Jones, he tried to do it 20 or 30 years ago. And we are still here.
I still look forward to working with the business community, the professional groups and all who are interested so that we could all work out a way forward. Many, including the "Post-80s", are getting very fed up. And that is why we see such confrontations during recent demonstrations and marches. So we owe it to ourselves to find a solution. We want direct elections in 2012, but if it is not possible, then we could refer to what Beijing said in 2007 about 2017 and 2020. But most of us do not believe that it is for real. So we want a concrete guarantee. What does that mean? Tell us how the CE, how the whole Legco will be elected. When we see it, we will know if it is real universal suffrage or if it is a fake. If we look at it and if we are convinced that it is for real, then fine, we can talk. If we have a guarantee that elections in 2017 and 2020 are for real, that we will have genuine "one-person-one-vote" (not "one-man-one-vote"), if there is a concrete guarantee, then I am willing to talk about any transitional measures. Even if there is no change, I am happy. I am very easy so long there is this guarantee; but if there is none and you want us to spend a lot of time talking about transitional measures, I am sorry! I am not interested.
Later this year, the Democratic Party will hold an EGM on how we are going to vote on the Government's package. So we practice internal democracy. We are the only party who allowed our members to have a vote on this so called "De facto Referendum". We held our AGM in December last year and over 80% of those who turned out voted against it. The party spoke loudly and clearly. Probably around May or June, our party will vote again on the package. But I am quite certain, if there is concrete guarantee of genuine Universal Suffrage in 2017 and 2020, I think many of our members will be happy to support a transitional measure.
So please ask yourself, how long have you waited for democratic government? Why do we have to wait that long? To me, I think the way to democracy is through party politics, multi-party politics. And I am against one-party rule. I hope we will have multi-party politics and we will have our ruling party and our CE will come from a ruling party. And he or she would have support in the Legislature. So my dear friends, in the coming months, there will be a lot more discussions and I hope you would speak up in whatever forum you have, when you go to Beijing - if you have a chance to go - you tell Beijing what you want. Tell them that it is about time, Hong Kong people should choose our own government. I hope you won't sit back and say: what can we do? If we continue to have that attitude, we are not going to get anywhere. So do it for our next generation and I hope you and I will see real democracy in Hong Kong in our life time. Thank you.
Sir David Akers-Jones:
So come back to hard facts. And the hard fact is the Standing Committee of NPC came to Hong Kong in December 2007 to announce the results after deliberation of the way forward for Hong Kong. The Standing Committee of NPC includes representatives from all the provinces of China. It is a large body of people, and they debated this question and as a result of the debate came to a conclusion and sent a representative to Hong Kong to tell us what the resolution was. And it said one thing which was very important, that we shall continue to have FCs in 2012 and that the "Split Voting" will continue in 2012. Now those were two very important statements. It seems to me that since those two statements were made, we should work with those statements, not try to brush them aside.
Let's try to work with those two statements of the NPC-SC. Is there any point in arguing for direct elections in 2012 when we were told that this is not on? Is there any point in getting rid of the FCs in one fell swoop in 2012? Emily has talked about compromise and finding consensus. Let us try to work with those restrictions and find a consensus on what we can do in 2012.
And we can do many things. We have been talking about the Nomination Committee, expanding the size of Legco and so on. Those are the things we should concentrate on. Find an agreement and get it through Legco with two-thirds majority. And if we get it though Legco with two-thirds majority, then we get the election of the CE by direct election of "one-man-one-vote" in 2017. I firmly believe that we can achieve a CE elected by Universal Suffrage, if we come to an agreement for 2012 - keeping the FCs etc. Don't try to get rid of them. And we will have our "one-person-one-vote" elected CE in 2017. And that is a very major step forward. It's almost a revolution for Hong Kong, that we are able to elect a CE - our own leader - in 2017.
This is a diversion. But I think we will never have an "Executive-led Government" while we have the list system of voting for the Legislative Council. Where ever you get a list voting system, you get a fractured legislature. And we now have a fractured legislature with - eight or nine parties in Legco. We have got to have some form of transferable vote to elect the directly elected members of Legco. And then we will get a strong party system. And I am all for the CE to come from the leading party. I am all for the CE to be a party member. I think that's got to come, but we will never have an "Executive-led Government" with this fractured Legislative Council.
So our response, the BPF's response, to the electoral proposals is a compromise - half elected by transferrable vote and half by FCs. It seems that, instead of talking "grand talk" of sweeping away the FCs, let us look at the details which are so important to developing an "Executive-led Government".
And then we have to adhere to the Basic Law which says all sectors of the community are to be represented, so we've got to stick with the Basic Law, unless we want to change the Basic Law. In order to protect the economy and so on and so forth, we must have a chamber that contains their representatives - so we have got to find some way to keep the FCs - and someone has said "one-person-two-votes". It was put forward by Christine Loh and from Michael DeGolyer of the Baptist University - not to get rid of the FCs, but to expand them and to make them more representative. So let us talk of doing away with FCs in 2012. We should keep the split voting in 2012 and think how we can improve it.
I will keep urging the "Bicameral System". How come so many places in the world, why do all the States in America except Nebraska, have the Bicameral System? Why do they have Bicameral System in Australia, in Canada and so on? I think in government we need a system of checks and balances. The FCs provide a system of checks and balances at the present time, but looking forward as we develop our system, I believe in the checks and balances provided by the Bicameral System. There are so many things to think about, so many details, but we are not thinking about it. We are not debating. We are getting stuck on the "big things" like sweeping away the FCs, direct elections in 2012 when they have been strictly forbidden by the NPC-SC in 2007. We are not a country. We are not a state. We are part of China - which is a good point to close - we are part of China. If we were free to choose, then things would be very different. Thank you.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation.