Increasing seats while reducing democracy: a critique of the government’s proposed legislation for the arrangements for selecting the Chief Executive and forming the Legislative Council in 2012

 In Chief Executive & Legislative Council Elections, Constitutional Reform, Constitutional Reform
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  • It is obvious that increasing the number of seats of the Election Committee (EC) for selecting the Chief Executive (CE) and the number of seats of the Legislative Council (LegCo) is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for democratizing Hong Kong.
  • The government’s proposed legislation for the arrangements for forming the EC and LegCo in 2012[1] exemplifies this obvious truth.
  • Although the government, in its proposal for local legislation, suggests an increase in the number of seats of the EC and LegCo, the detailed arrangements for forming the two bodies are not going to bring more democracy to Hong Kong.
  • The government’s claim that the proposed electoral arrangements can “enhance the democratic elements” of the 2012 CE and LegCo elections is untrue.
  • Worse, it is feared that the government proposal will actually reduce democracy in Hong Kong.

 

Genuine tests of democratization

  • Genuine tests of democratization are:
    • Test 1: Will formal democratic rights – the right to elect and the right to be elected – be extended?
      • The extension of the rights to elect and be elected is the necessary condition of democratization.
      • Increasing the number of seats in the legislature without extending political rights to groups formerly deprived of such rights means only that the new seats will be filled and elected by groups already enjoying political privilege.
      • No progress in democracy can be claimed in this situation.
    • Test 2: Will the electoral systems to be employed limit the exercise of the extended political rights?
      • Even if political rights will be extended, if the electoral systems to be used will severely limit people’s exercise of such rights, little progress in democracy can be made.
    • Test 3: Will the prevailing political power structure of the political system be weakened?
      • While Test 1 and Test 2 examine the input side of democratization, this test scrutinizes the output side of democratization – the impact of the extension of rights on the power configuration in the political system.
      • Democratization means that the political system becomes more inclusive. Divergent political forces in society will have real and greater chances to gain presence in the legislative and/or executive branches. This will in turn dilute concentrations of power in the existing political structure.
      • If, however, the prevailing political structure and power configuration continue to obtain, then it means no or little democratization has occurred.

 

Testing the government’s proposal

  • The government’s proposed arrangements for EC and LegCo elections fail almost all the three tests above.

 

  • Regarding the EC, although its seats are to be increased from 800 to 1200, the government proposes to neither add new subsectors nor expand the electorates of existing subsectors.
  • This effectively means that the political right to participate in EC elections will not be extended and that newly added seats will only be filled and elected by the original EC electorates.
  • The government claims that increasing EC seats will “provide more room for members of the community to participate in the CE election”.
  • This defence is incorrect and actually twists common understanding of “providing more room for members of the community to participate in an election”.
  • In common understanding, the phrase would mean “members of the community who are previously excluded in an election will now be included”.
  • In the government’s proposal, however, no member of the community currently excluded from the CE election will be included.
  • What the government proposal actually means in practice is: “increasing the seats of the EC will provide more room for members of the current EC electorates, not the community, to participate in the CE election”!
  • This is not democratization!

 

  • Regarding LegCo, the number of seats is to be increased by 10 – five to be directly-elected seats and five to be FC seats.
  • Although the number of directly-elected seats is to be increased by five, the existing balance of power between the directly-elected legislators and FC legislators is nonetheless set to remain the same.
  • Thus, increasing the number of directly-elected seats in itself will not bring more democracy to Hong Kong.
  • Whether democratization will occur depends on how the five new FC seats are to be returned. (We are of the view that the traditional FCs cannot be genuinely democratized. Even if the whole citizenry is to be allowed to participate in FC elections, given the nature of functional/occupational representation, some social interests are bound to be excluded. Full democratization will only occur when FC seats are abolished and replaced by directly-elected geographical constituency seats.)
  • The government proposes to allow the majority of Hong Kong voters to vote in the elections of the five new FC seats; however, only current directly-elected district councillors will have the right to stand in the elections.
  • In other words, the majority of Hong Kong citizens are being offered only partial instead of full democratic rights in the elections of the five new seats.
  • The government opposes extending the right of standing in the new FC elections to former directly-elected District Councillors on the ground that only current District Councillors represent the current views of DC electorates. In the government’s view, former DC members, albeit directly-elected, represented only former views of the electorates. It thus argues that giving the right of standing in the new FC elections to formerly elected DC members is undemocratic.
  • This argument is however flawed. In democracy, it is the choice of voters that counts. If former DC members are allowed to stand in the new FC elections and if they win the elections, that will mean they have regained the mandate to represent and for that matter, won the most up-to-date legitimacy to speak for the people. So why would former District Councillors be necessarily less worthy candidates than current DC members, also noting that DC electorates and the electorates of the new FC seats will largely coincide?
  • It must be pointed out loudly that it is the limitation of the right to stand in the elections of the new FC seats that is undemocratic.
  • Not only does the government refuse to extend the right to stand in the new FC seats elections, it is further proposing to restrict such right via a high nomination requirement for candidates wishing to stand in such elections.
  • Given the existing configuration of political forces in the District Councils, only two major political groups stand to meet the nomination requirement and thus to participate in the new FC elections.
  • This also means that voters’ choice set of candidates in the new elections will be reduced to two major political groups only.
  • In the end, the “partial ” democratic right being offered to the Hong Kong voter in the new FC elections will in practice be further reduced into a near nominal right only; we will have votes that are significantly circumscribed in choice and decimated in the democratic sense.

 

Reducing democracy in Hong Kong

  • Indeed, not only will the government’s proposal not increase democracy in Hong Kong, rather the reverse, it stands to reduce democracy in Hong Kong.
  • The government’s proposal for forming the EC will concentrate political power in terms of electing the CE and nominating CE candidates in the hands of one particular political force vis-à-vis other forces given the existing configuration of political forces in the EC.
  • According to the government’s proposal, the number of seats to be allocated to the District Council (DC) subsector of the EC will be increased from 42 to 117.
  • This represents a substantial and disproportionate increase in the number of DC subsector seats vis-à-vis other EC subsectors. It in turn means that the DC subsector’s share of seats vis-à-vis other EC subsectors will increase disproportionately. (As newly-added seats will be allocated in proportion to the current distribution of seats among subsectors in the first three sectors, the share of EC seats of individual subsectors in the first three sectors will remain the same.)
  • As the current simply majority/first-past-the-post/block vote system for returning the DC subsector seats will be retained, the same majority political forces in the DC subsector that have won the current subsector seats will very likely be able to win the additional seats.
  • This amounts to the fact that, through the electoral arrangement, one particular political force in the existing configuration of forces in the EC will be given additional political leverage in electing the EC and in nominating CE candidates.
  • Miraging an extension of participating rights in EC elections on the surface while further entrenching the political leverage of particular political forces in the EC in effect is not democratic advance but democratic regression!

 

 

Winston Ng (吳君韻)

Hong Kong Democratic Foundation (香港民主促進會)

13 Nov 2010

 

 

[1] Package of Proposals for the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2012, April 2010.

 

 

 

 

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