IMC: Anna Wu Endorses 2012 Political Reforms

Rejecting Hong Kong’s 2012 Electoral Reform package would lead to deadlock while accepting it could pave the way to greater reforms in future, Executive Councillor Anna Wu told the International Media Conference on Tuesday.

Anna Wu. Photograph by Maggie Chen.

Jump to the full text of Anna Wu’s speech

“There is no down side in voting the proposal in but there is every downside in voting it out,” she said.

Wu was speaking on the second day of the International Media Conference, co-sponsored by the East-West Center of Hawaii and the JMSC.

“The 2012 reform is a step, albeit a small step, that leads us closer to the more critical reforms that lie ahead. The pan democrats have indicated that they will vote the proposal down without additional assurances on universal suffrage. In doing so they are coupling the 2012 reforms with the wider issues beyond 2012.

“This in effect is holding hostage future universal suffrage elections.

“The political price for voting it down is very steep. In fact, in 2005 similar proposals were voted down and the clock stood still for five years. Electoral reforms may be further delayed, distrust and polarization will intensify and the ability of the government to rule will be further eroded. There is no down side in voting the proposal in but there is every downside in voting it out.

“I would urge all legislators to back the 2012 reforms and to look beyond 2012. We must find some way to establish consensus and to forge alliances both within the ranks of the Legislative Council and within the community to deal with the more critical steps that lie ahead.

“To win the support of two-thirds of legislators on an electoral model is something that must be done within Hong Kong and by Hong Kong. This process is up to us.”

The full text of her speech follows:

The Political Evolution of Hong Kong

By Anna Wu Hung Yuk

The Sino-British Joint Declaration on HK was signed in 1984. The two governments agreed that the future Chief Executive would be appointed by China after election or consultations and the future legislature by elections. There were no details as to what type of elections would be held and universal suffrage was not specified.

This was not surprising. Up to that point, the entire legislature was appointed by the colonial government. Hong Kong had no experience with elections.

To prepare for Britain’s withdrawal, elections via functional constituencies were held in 1985. Direct elections to 18 of the 60 seats in the Legislative Council were held in 1991, the year after the Basic Law was enacted by China’s National People’s Congress.

The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitutional document, for the first time held out hope that both the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council would one day be elected by universal suffrage.

It provided for a gradual increase in the number of directly elected seats in the 60-seat legislature, leading up to 30 in 2004. That is, by that year, half the legislature would be directly elected and the other half chosen by functional constituencies.

The timetable stopped in 2004. The question in the minds of many people was whether the 2007 election for Chief Executive and the 2008 elections for the entire legislature would be through universal suffrage.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decided against universal suffrage for those elections, as well as for the coming 2012 elections.

However, in a Decision in December 2007, the Standing Committee decided that the Chief Executive could be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, followed by universal suffrage elections for the entire legislature.

That is where Hong Kong stands today.

Political reform is a work in progress and the NPC Decision of 2007 is a crucial link in the process. It has made universal suffrage election possible for the Chief Executive in 2017 and thereafter for the entire legislature in 2020.

In the meantime, Hong Kong has to prepare for the 2012 elections, which the NPC has decided can include reforms but not universal suffrage. One requirement laid down by the NPC is that the ratio of geographically elected and functionally elected members must be kept at 50:50.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang has proposed adding 10 seats to the legislature, with five elected directly and the other five elected indirectly, by having elected District Councillors electing five of their own members into the legislature.

In effect, District Councillors will comprise an electoral college all of whose members are also elected.

This is a major departure from the traditional functional seats, which are trade, profession or sector based. The directly and indirectly elected component in the Legislative Council will bring the total number of elected legislators close to 60%.

The Basic Law requires a Nomination Committee to be set up to nominate Chief Executive candidates for election by universal suffrage.

We have an Election Committee today to elect the Chief Executive. Donald Tsang also proposes widening the membership of the Election Committee by 50% with the addition of elected District Councillors and others.

It is likely that the future Nomination Committee will be built by reference to this resulting in a slightly more liberal Nomination Committee. The more liberal the Nomination Committee the better it will provide for a choice of candidates for election.

Current law specifies that the Chief Executive should not have any political affiliation. However, I believe in the long term it is sensible to align the Chief Executive with a political party or a coalition. This will reduce the tension between the legislature and the executive.

At present, there is no ruling party to support the government in the legislature. The result is that different groups in the legislature can take turns to oppose the government on different issues.

This means that in theory all parties are opposition parties. Having a Chief Executive affiliated to a political party means that the Chief Executive will be bound by a party platform. To my mind this adds to the transparency and accountability of the Chief Executive. The prospect of becoming the ruling party will also help political parties to mature.

The functional constituency is a creation of the past and though intended to be a transitional arrangement is locked into the system. Getting rid of them will require a two-thirds vote in the legislature, which means that some functionally elected legislators will have to vote for the abolition of their own seats.

To bring this about, there is no alternative to engagement and dialogue between the different blocs in the legislature.

The 2012 reform is a step, albeit a small step, that leads us closer to the more critical reforms that lie ahead. The pan democrats have indicated that they will vote the proposal down without additional assurances on universal suffrage. In doing so they are coupling the 2012 reforms with the wider issues beyond 2012.

This in effect is holding hostage future universal suffrage elections. The political price for voting it down is very steep. In fact, in 2005 similar proposals were voted down and the clock stood still for five years. Electoral reforms may be further delayed, distrust and polarization will intensify and the ability of the government to rule will be further eroded. There is no down side in voting the proposal in but there is every downside in voting it out.

I would urge all legislators to back the 2012 reforms and to look beyond 2012.

We must find some way to establish consensus and to forge alliances both within the ranks of the Legislative Council and within the community to deal with the more critical steps that lie ahead.

To win the support of two-thirds of legislators on an electoral model is something that must be done within Hong Kong and by HK. This process is up to us.

In May 1989, the unofficial members of the Executive and Legislative Councils reached a consensus on a model for political reform in HK which came to be known as the OMELCO consensus, calling for an entirely directly elected legislature by 2003. Although the model was not accepted by Britain and China, it was a rare display of unity. It is time to start building consensus and only when such a consensus emerges will Hong Kong have universal suffrage.

At this point we need to start thinking about realigning the political forces as well.

We have the Central government at the apex of the constitutional order, the Hong Kong government that is confined in its proposals over political reform, the Democratic Party and some of its allies who wish to pursue further dialogue with Beijing and the functional constituencies which will be subject to a process of infinite pain attempting to work out the order of their demise.

Looking back, despite the polarization and the magnitude of the issues, the Basic Law Drafting Committee together with the Consultative Committee started the discussion on the drafting of HK’s mini constitution and were able to put the stitches together. We need to define and work out the second phase of the political development for HK and we need to consider a process which allows these different political forces at play to come together for a common purpose.