Elections in Hong Kong: Functionally Democratic
AFTER five years of stalemate, a compromise between Hong Kong’s democrats and Chinese officials has paved the way for the approval of fiercely debated political reforms by the territory’s legislature. This spares the local government potential embarrassment. It will allow a majority of legislators to be elected by popular vote for the first time in Hong Kong’s history. For China, too, these will be uncharted waters.
Noisy demonstrations by hundreds of people outside the Legislative Council, or Legco, building in central Hong Kong suggested that the package will not end political feuding over the pace of democratic reform. The demonstrators accused the Democratic Party, the biggest pro-democracy group, of abandoning its principles by supporting the compromise. As The Economist went to press, Legco was still debating the most controversial reforms, of the next Legco election in 2012, but had approved changes to the election for the chief executive in the same year. Of Legco’s 60 members only a dozen or so were expected to vote against the Legco-related motion. Objectors say the package fails to spell out how Hong Kong will eventually achieve full democracy. One Democratic Party legislator quit the party in protest.
Yet the concessions made by the Chinese and Hong Kong government are more striking. The reforms will increase the number of Legco seats to 70 in the next elections. Five of the new seats will be directly elected, representing geographical constituencies. The other five will represent district councils, which look after local issues such as cultural events and environmental projects.
An opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal elaborates on some of the reform’s remaining issues:
The next battles will be over the abolition of the functional constituencies, making district-level councils more democratic and fixing the nomination procedures for chief executive candidates. The latter is especially critical, given the enormous power vested in the executive. The committee of 1,200 that will pick Mr. Tsang’s successor will probably become the nominating committee for the first democratic election. Making this body more broadly representative and setting rules for the nomination process that will not shut out competitive challengers will become a top priority.
Merely because both sides compromised for the greater good this time does not mean that the upcoming fights will be any less acrimonious. The democratization process still depends on the democratic camp patching up its differences. Only a strong and united front will prevent conservative elements in Beijing from reneging on the spirit of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and its promise of universal suffrage.