Hong Kong’s deferred democracy – Softly, softly

Published on The Economist, Nov 19, 2009.

One man; one vote; one forlorn hope? – ACCORDING to its chief executive, Donald Tsang, Hong Kong has reached another “critical juncture” in its political development. A reform proposal unveiled by his government on November 18th aims to increase the level of democracy “substantially” in 2012 when Mr Tsang’s successor is chosen and a new legislature elected. Pro-democracy politicians are far from convinced …

… The problem, as democrats see it, is that China has not defined what it means by universal suffrage. Nor does Mr Tsang’s new “consultation document”. Suspicions are widespread in Hong Kong that China will insist on maintaining some aspects of the current political system in order to ensure that outspoken critics of the Communist Party have no chance of being elected as chief executive or of dominating Legco.

Half of Legco’s 60 seats are currently returned by “functional constituencies” in which certain professions and industries select their own legislators. These tend to be disdainful of the pro-democracy camp. The chief executive is chosen by an election committee stacked with similarly “pro-China” leaders of business and the establishment.

Mr Tsang’s proposal would add ten new seats to Legco in 2012. Five of them would be returned by direct elections and the other five by directly elected members of district councils, which are local consultative bodies. The election committee would be expanded from 800 to 1,200 members. But there has been no promise to abolish functional constituencies, either in 2012 or beyond. Undemocratic in its constitution, Legco will nevertheless put up a fight. (full text).

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