The Hong Kong government will table an electoral reform package to the Legislative Council on June 17, ahead of elections to the position of Chief Executive — the island's top leadership position — in 2017.
Pan-democrat lawmakers are expected vote down the proposal since it follows the framework set by the standing committee of the legislature in mainland China, the National People's Congress (NPC).
According to the rules, any change to the political system on the island demands two-thirds support from lawmakers of both the direct electoral constituencies and functional constituencies in the legislature.
As the pan-democrats have more than one-third of the seats in the direct electoral constituencies, they have enough votes to veto the proposal.
The NPC framework, announced on August 31, 2014, requires that all legitimate candidates to the chief executive post obtain majority support from what is currently the Electoral Committee (EC) and would be renamed the Nominating Committee (NC), a body dominated by pro-Beijing members. It also restricts the number of legitimate candidates for elections to between two and three.
Beijing's apparent intervention into Hong Kong's election process has been regarded by pan-democrats in Hong Kong as a violation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle viewed as key to guaranteeing Hong Kong's autonomy.
The chief executive is currently elected by a 1,200-strong EC with a nomination threshold of 150 votes of support, while the government's proposal demands 600 votes of support in the NC before the candidates are allowed to run for the election. With the current composition of the legislature, the proposed system ensures that only pro-Beijing candidates such as current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying can make it to the ballot.
The following video, made by an independent civic group in Hong Kong, compares the two systems and invites viewers to make their own judgement on whether the electoral reform package is progressive or regressive.
On June 10, the results of a poll indicated that citizens who oppose the government proposal outnumber supporters: 43 percent of the respondents said no to the electoral reform whereas 41.7 percent said yes. The poll was conducted jointly by three major universities in late April after the government announced details of its proposal.
Previous polls showed that a majority of the respondents supported the government package, largely because the Chinese government refused to withdraw the August 31 decision and claimed that the idea of citizen nominations proposed by Hong Kong democrats was unrealistic.
The swing in public opinion occurred as the government decided to table the proposal without offering any concessions, such as the abolition of unpopular corporate voting in the legislature.
Furthermore, Beijing refuses to stipulate a timetable for further Hong Kong electoral reform, implying that the current proposal, once passed, may become Hong Kong's permanent electoral code.
The change in mood is an embarrassment to officials who lobbied pan-democratic lawmakers to vote “according to the people's will”. It also reflects the failure of a campaign that has included a series of high profile political advertisements and community visits featuring top government officials since late April.
The government slogan for the reform package is ‘2017 – Make it Happen’. Its most publicized advert begins by stressing ordinary citizens’ aspiration for universal suffrage and ends with three top government officials — Carrie Lam, Rimsky Yuen and Raymond Tam (known as The Trio) — calling on people to support the change.
It has been aired repeatedly on Hong Kong TV over the past few months:
Typical reactions on YouTube include:
This reform proposal is trying to turn 5 million voters into rubber stamps.
This is simply unacceptable.
You all HK government officers betray HK ppl!!! You think don't need to pay, you don't feel sorry, holding your overseas passport…pushing HK to hell…one day karma must come to you, you and your families.
George Orwell would be proud of you. Everyone else on earth just laughs.
Hong Kong netizens have been promoting a spoof version of the video called ‘2017 – Make it a Dead End‘ in which actors pretending to be the Trio suggest they betrayed Hong Kong's people for the sake of their careers. A more professionally-made video, meanwhile, depicts a character resembling Carrie Lam, chief secretary of the Hong Kong government, writing ‘A Letter to Hong Kong’ in 2022, recounting all the changes that happened once the electoral reform came into effect.
The video mocks the chief secretary, a long-time civil servant, as a hypocrite:
The electoral reform proposal indicates the Beijing government's failure to fulfill its political obligation to let Hong Kong's people decide on constitutional reform.
As the current government headed by CY Leung has ruled out any alternative reform plan, the next political reform proposal will be left to the next chief executive elected by the 1,200-member EC in 2017.
Before then there will be a council election in 2016 and pro-Beijing political parties have already started mobilizing the public to vote out the pan-democrat lawmakers while the pan-democrats appeal to their supporters to help them maintain their veto power in the legislature.
The pro-democracy Occupy Central protest in 2014 was a citizen-initiated attempt to press the Beijing government to withdraw the August 31 framework and leave more space for citizen participation in nominating chief executives. Its struggle goes on.