Q&A | 20 questions on improving HK's electoral system
By Hong Kong's Tomorrow Concern group
1.Why did the Central Authorities decide to improve Hong Kong's electoral system after the National Security Law was introduced in the city?
To safeguard political stability and security of political power, and uphold the fundamental principle of "one country, two systems". The National Security Law aims to address the issue of national security, and the improvement of the electoral system aims to address the issue of political stability and security of political power. The Central Authorities have the power and responsibility to address at the national level the problem of anti-China, destabilizing forces exploiting loopholes in the electoral system to undermine China's national sovereignty, security, development interests and the "one country, two systems" framework. The combination of such measures demonstrated the Central Authorities' commitment to implement the "one country, two systems" policy.
To fix loopholes in the electoral system and ensure that Hong Kong is administered by patriots. Administration by patriots is the basic political ethos of any country or region. It is imperative that strict institutional safeguards be provided to ensure that anti-China, destabilizing elements cannot, under any circumstances, enter the government organs of the Hong Kong SAR.
To improve the governance efficacy of the Hong Kong SAR and develop its democracy in a gradual and orderly manner. Improving the electoral system is conducive to solving problems such as the long-term confrontation between the executive and legislative branches, the declining efficacy of social governance, and the stagnant development of democracy. It will also help the SAR focus on developing the economy and improving people's livelihoods, fundamentally solve the deep-seated problems, and ultimately lay a foundation for achieving universal suffrage.
2. What improvements have been made in the restructuring and empowerment of the Election Committee?
It has served to optimize "balanced participation" in the deliberation and administration of SAR affairs. The Election Committee, by collectively nominating candidates for the Chief Executive election and for the Legislative Council, will ensure the representativeness of the candidates, and break the interest constraints imposed by different sectors, districts or political groups. This will enable people of all strata and from all walks of life to be fully represented in the governance structure, and better serve the overall interests of the Hong Kong society.
It has served to strengthen the "executive-led" political system. Through the restructuring and empowerment of the Election Committee, several elections have been organically combined to avoid the excessive politicization caused by the numerous and scattered election activities. This is conducive to the realization of the original intention of the Basic Law regarding the implementation of the executive-led political system and the enhancement of its governance efficiency.
It has demonstrated that the electoral reform was programmed to "advance with the times". The establishment of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee to vet the eligibility of candidates for the elections of the Election Committee, the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council is a necessary step to upgrade and strengthen the entire electoral system, and to implement the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong".
3. Why has the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress made such specific stipulations for the new electoral system?
With the full authorization of the NPC, the Standing Committee of the NPC has the power to decide on the level of refinement in light of actual needs. The Standing Committee has endeavored to make the amendments as detailed as possible, spelling out specific provisions on major issues relevant to the improvement of the electoral system. Such an approach is not only a demonstration of the Standing Committee's power and obligation, but also a reflection of the Central Authorities' sense of genuine care and responsibility for Hong Kong. It will help make it easier for Hong Kong to proceed with local legislations.
The making of relatively specific provisions will help the SAR faithful implement its legislative intention when carrying out relevant local legislations, and complete the legislative work as soon as possible within a limited period of time, and ensure that the elections of the Election Committee, the Legislative Council, and the Chief Executive are completed within the next year. It will enhance the rigour of the system, avoid unnecessary disputes in its implementation, and prevent anti-China, destabilizing forces from exploiting institutional loopholes to interfere with the administration of the SAR.
4. How are the opinions of Hong Kong residents reflected in the new electoral system?
The Central Authorities have taken into full consideration the opinions of the people from all walks of life in Hong Kong. Both the decision of the NPC and the amendment process concerning the revised electoral system made full reference to and drew on the views of people from all walks of life in Hong Kong, including a strong public opinion as evidenced by 2.38 million signatures in support of the NPC decision. In three days starting March 15, the relevant departments held 100 symposiums and meetings, with the number of attendants exceeding 1,000, including those of the "pan-democratic" camp.
Many of the views of Hong Kong residents have been incorporated into the new electoral system. They include setting up some "safety valves" to provide a reliable institutional safeguard for patriots administering Hong Kong; reforming the Election Committee to ensure the balanced participation of all sectors; eliminating the representation of District Councils, etc. These opinions of Hong Kong residents reflected a consensus for peace after the turmoil the city has endured.
5. How to understand that the new electoral system has established a democratic system with Hong Kong characteristics?
The new electoral system has served to improve the quality of Hong Kong's democracy.
The size of the Election Committee has been expanded, with the composition of its sectors restructured and the method for its formation optimized. This makes the Election Committee more representative with more balanced participation. It can also better represent the overall interests of the Hong Kong society and reflect the characteristics of "one country, two systems".
The Election Committee returns the Chief Executive designate and some members of the Legislative Council, which will expand common ground of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council among their constituents and help promote the smooth operation of the executive-led governance system in the SAR.
The expansion of the Legislative Council will better represent public opinions. The restructuring of sectors and voter eligibility in the functional constituency elections can better realize the original intention that the functional constituencies are elected to represent sector interests and ensure balanced participation. The revamp of the voting system of geographical constituencies through direct elections will help ban the entry of a small number of radical political forces into the organs of governance, promote the sound development of Hong Kong's social and political environment, and improve the quality and efficiency of legislative operations.
6. Why has a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee been set up?
This is a pre-installed "safety valve" to ensure "patriots administering Hong Kong". The Candidate Eligibility Review Committee will review and confirm the eligibility of candidates for Election Committee members, for the Chief Executive and for Legislative Council members. The committee will act as a "safety valve" by ensuring that the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" is implemented throughout the governance system. Hong Kong society has long appealed for the setting up of such a "front gate safety valve".
The system is designed to better safeguard national security. For years, the loopholes and deficiencies in Hong Kong's existing electoral system have become ever more evident. Just imagine what would have happened to Hong Kong if anti-China, destabilizing activists had taken up key positions in the HKSAR's governance system? The chaos and violence must never be repeated in Hong Kong.
It is a universal practice to vet the eligibility of election candidates. It is the most basic political ethic and legal requirement for any political participant to safeguard national security, which has nothing to do with general political and policy debates. It is a universal practice to review the eligibility of political participants in areas such as national security.
7. How to ensure the decisions of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee are fair and just?
The Candidate Eligibility Review Committee marks an improvement to previous vetting system. According to the existing electoral system of the HKSAR, the Returning Officer is solely responsible for vetting candidates, and determines whether a candidate meets the legal requirements and conditions of "upholding the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR and swearing allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR of the People's Republic of China". The reformed electoral system elevates the vetting authority from the returning officer to the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, and requires that the Commission for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR make findings as to whether a candidate meets the legal requirements and conditions of "upholding the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR and swearing allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR of the People's Republic of China". This will ensure, from a higher level of authority, that eligibility review results are authoritative, fair and just.
No legal proceedings may be instituted in respect of a decision made by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee on the eligibility of a candidate pursuant to the opinion of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security. This is in conformity with the National Security Law for Hong Kong.
8. How to understand that the Election Committee represents the overall interests of Hong Kong?
Members of the Election Committee are coming from a more diversified social background, with the addition of subsectors such as small and medium enterprises, technology and innovation, grassroots associations, associations of Chinese fellow townsmen, representatives of associations of Hong Kong residents in the Mainland, and representatives of Hong Kong members of relevant national organizations. The interests of different social sectors are now more equally represented in the Election Committee.
In terms of the method for returning the Election Committee members, the improved electoral system has moderately increased the proportion of ex officio members and members elected through nomination, which can help avert populism arising from a single election method. The members of the Election Committee are mostly elected by eligible corporate voters in relevant constituencies, so that they can better reflect the appeals of these constituencies.
In terms of the eligibility for the Election Committee members, the revised electoral system does not lower the threshold for the ex officio members and nominated candidates, who must also meet all the qualifications required of Election Committee member, so as to ensure the principle of equality.
9. Why has a "Fifth Sector" been added to the Election Committee?
It makes the Election Committee more representative. The Fifth Sector is composed of HKSAR deputies to the NPC, HKSAR members of the CPPCC National Committee and the representatives of Hong Kong members of relevant national organization. This enables the Election Committee to better represent the interests of different sectors, social strata and groups. Hong Kong members of relevant national organization are the progressive forces of their respective sectors, and their participation can help improve the Election Committee's representativeness and progressiveness.
It is conducive to improving national awareness. Members of the Fifth Sector have a strong national awareness, and their being members of the Election Committee can help boost national awareness among Election Committee members, and harmonize the interests of both the country and the Hong Kong SAR.
It is conducive to promoting Hong Kong's integration into national development. Hong Kong members of relevant national organizations have a good knowledge of the country's needs and Hong Kong's strengths, and are serving as the bridges between Hong Kong and the mainland. Their membership with the Election Committee can help Hong Kong ride on the mainland's fast development, position itself as a "participant" of the country's internal circulation and a "facilitator" in international circulation, and help resolve the deep-seated problems be setting the SAR's socioeconomic development.
10. Why are the HKSAR deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the CPPCC National Committee also able to register as members of the Election Committee?
This arrangement serves to improve the representativeness of relevant sectors within the Election Committee. Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the CPPCC National Committee have their own occupations. In addition to the Fifth Sector of the Election Committee, they are permitted to register as members of a subsector with which they are closely associated. That will help give a full play to their role in their respective subsectors, and facilitate exchanges and cooperation between their subsectors and the mainland.
Hong Kong deputies to the NPC and members of the CPPCC National Committee are the cream of the crop in their respective fields. Their number is limited and has remained relatively stable at around 200. Some of them are not permanent residents of Hong Kong, and thus cannot serve as members of the Election Committee or members of the Legislative Council. Groundless and malicious are the allegations that the Central Authorities have arbitrarily increased the number of Hong Kong members of the CPPCC National Committee in an attempt to control the Election Committee.
11. Why shall there be a system of conveners for the Election Committee?
The Election Committee has a system of conveners, who shall be responsible for convening meetings of the Election Committee as necessary and handle relevant matters. It is the "final safeguard clause" designed to cope with unpredictable problems that existing laws are unable to resolve. Any system design needs to take worst-case scenarios into consideration. In the case of Hong Kong, if extreme situation arises, the Chief Executive can report to the Central Government in accordance with relevant decisions made by the National People's Congress, whereby the Central Government will move to deal with the situation via the convener system in a timely manner.
12. What is the basic approach for improving the electoral system of the Legislative Council?
The number of Legislative Council members has been increased. The Legislative Council has been expanded to have 90 seats for each term, making it more representative. The electoral reform has also taken into account the legislature's operational efficiency and the proportion of the population it represents, in response to repeated calls from the Hong Kong society
The composition of the Legislative Council has been optimized. Legislative Council members shall be returned by the Election Committee, functional constituencies and geographical constituencies through direct elections, making the legislature more representative and balanced. By setting the number of Legislative Council members returned in the proportion of 4:3:2, the interests of each constituency and each district as well as the overall interests of Hong Kong society are better represented. This design will not only enable the Legislative Council to better exercise oversight over the HKSAR government, but also facilitate better communication between the legislature and executive authorities, and buttress the executive-led political system.
The interests of different sectors are accommodated. The electoral reform has effectively answered the people's call for "patriots administering Hong Kong", and cared for the interests of different constituencies, social strata and sectors of Hong Kong society. It will help the Legislative Council get rid of extremism and fragmentation.
13. What are the advantages of the restructured composition of the Legislative Council?
It corresponds with mainstream public opinion. During the process of soliciting public views, most people proposed to set the number of legislators returned by the Election Committee, the functional constituencies and the geographical constituencies at a ratio of 4:3:2, while a small number of people were in favor of 3:3:3 or 5:2:2. The National People's Congress Standing Committee went for a compromise solution by setting the number of Legislative Council members returned by the Election Committee, the functional constituencies and the geographical constituencies at 40, 30 and 20 respectively. This is in line with the mainstream public opinion of the Hong Kong society.
It best serves the overall interests of Hong Kong. The Legislative Council members returned by the Election Committee represent the overall interests of Hong Kong. Those returned by functional constituencies represent the interests of industries. Those returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections represent the interests of districts. With the Legislative Council members returned by the Election Committee accounting for a relatively higher proportion, the overall interests of Hong Kong can be better represented.
It helps improve communication between the legislature and the executive authorities. With 40 members of the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive both returned by the Election Committee and having the same voter base, it will help forge a majority in support of the Chief Executive's law-based administration.
14. Why have some of the functional constituencies' individual votes been restructured as corporate votes in the Legislative Council election?
To highlight the plurality of democracy in Hong Kong. Most countries and regions in the world adopt a mixed electoral system. In light the actual situation of Hong Kong, the electoral system of the Legislative Council was revamped this time to incorporate multiple election methods, highlighting the plurality of democracy in Hong Kong.
To make a return to the original system of the functional constituency. When drafting the Basic Law, the functional constituency system was designed to have institutional votes as the main voting method so as to represent the interests of specified constituencies and industries. In recent years, functional constituency elections were increasingly morphing into direct elections. Institutional votes are boosted this time in a return to the original design of the system.
Individual votes are partially retained in light of the actual situation. Individual votes are retained in seven constituencies dominated by individual practitioners who have statutory professional qualifications. Moreover, Legislative Council members are returned by individual votes in two constituencies -- Heung Yee Kuk; HKSAR deputies to the NPC and HKSAR members of the CPPCC National Committee and representatives of relevant national organizations.
15. Why didn't the electoral reform proceed with the "five-step" constitutional reform process?
The "five-step" constitutional reform process has proved unworkable. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has made several decisions on the issue of Hong Kong's constitutional reform, setting out a roadmap and timetable for "dual universal suffrage". However, the development of Hong Kong's political system has been stalled due to the obstruction of the anti-China, destabilizing forces. The improvement of electoral system would not have been possible this time if it had been initiated by the SAR government according to the "five-step" process.
The "five-step" process does not limit or exclude the power of National People's Congress to amend, in accordance with the law, the two annexes to the HKSAR Basic Law. Hong Kong is a regional administrative region of China, and the power to determine its political structure, including the electoral system, rests with the central government. Pursuant to Article 159 of HKSAR Basic Law, which stipulates that "The power of amendment of this Law shall be vested in the National People's Congress", the National People's Congress is empowered to directly amend Annex I and Annex II to the HKSAR Basic Law, or delegate the power to its Standing Committee.
The "five-step" process has ceased to apply. After the National People's Congress Standing Committee amended the two annexes of the HKSAR Basic Law, previous decisions regarding the "five-step" process have ceased to apply. From now on, the National People's Congress Standing Committee will directly exercise the power in accordance with the law to amend the two annexes.
16. What are the future status and functions of the District Councils?
District councils should revert to the original intention of the Basic Law. The Basic Law stipulates that district organizations which are not organs of political power may be established in the HKSAR, to be consulted by the government of the Region on district administration and other affairs, or to be responsible for providing services in such fields as culture, recreation and environmental sanitation. By improving the electoral system in Hong Kong, District Councils will return to their intended functions and positioning under the Basic Law. Political functions that should not be performed by District Councils will be removed, making them truly a bridge for communication between the government and grassroots residents.
Excessively politicized District Councils will put Hong Kong in peril. The District Councils had become a stage for political theatrics, ignoring the well-being of people within the community, diminishing Hong Kong's advantages, dragging down Hong Kong's economy and damaging people's livelihoods. Can such District Councils represent the mainstream public opinion and overall interests of Hong Kong?
17. Will the "pan-democrats" still be able to stand for election? Is there still room for political participation by the opposition camp?
There is great political tolerance on the part of the central government. The improvement of Hong Kong's electoral system is not aimed at the exclusion of anyone. Although some Hong Kong citizens have limited knowledge of the country and the mainland, and may even have various prejudices, the central government understands and is tolerant of them.
"Patriots administering Hong Kong" does not mean being exclusive. The scope of "patriots" was, is and will be broadly defined. The permanent residents of the SAR are eligible to participate in the administration of Hong Kong as long as they sincerely safeguard China's sovereignty, security and development interests; respect and uphold the fundamental system of the country and the constitutional order of the HKSAR; and do their utmost to maintain Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.
There are also "pan-democrats" who are patriots. As long as they distance themselves from the anti-China, destabilizing forces, they can still run for office and be elected in accordance with the law. "Patriots administering Hong Kong" does not mean there is only one voice left. Different voices, including those critical of the government, will still be heard in the Legislative Council chamber.
18. What is the relationship between "patriots administering Hong Kong" and "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong"?
"Patriots administering Hong Kong" is the minimum requirement. No country in the world would allow unpatriotic people to administer the country or part of the country. It is the basic political ethos.
The policy of "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" has never changed. The "Hong Kong people" as in "Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong" had all along been required to be "patriots". The emphasis today on "patriots administering Hong Kong" is just a reiteration of the same requirement.
Improving the electoral system can better promote the administration of Hong Kong by Hong Kong people with a high degree of autonomy. By eliminating the anti-China, destabilizing forces from the SAR's governance structure, it is conducive to the fostering of a sound political environment, helping the legislature get rid of populism, extremism and fragmentation, and ensuring that political showmen are replaced by whose work hard.
19. How does the new electoral system ensure that "patriotism" and "competence" are united?
The new electoral system is the institutionalization of the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong". The development of democracy in Hong Kong must not violate the fundamental principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong". Improving the electoral system means that anti-China, destabilizing elements will never be allowed to enter the governing structure of the SAR, or to sit in the Legislative Council chamber.
The new electoral system has introduced full electoral competition. Improving the electoral system and the mechanism of talent grooming and training will provide a solid institutional guarantee for the selection of good and capable candidates so that patriots of both integrity and intelligence are selected and the good governance that Hong Kong people expect can be achieved. Those who register to stand for election need to be nominated by the Election Committee and meet a certain qualification threshold. On the premise of ensuring that the candidates are "patriots", the Election Committee members will take into account factors such as public opinion and the governance capability of potential candidates before deciding whether to allow them to enter an election.
20. Will Hong Kong have "universal suffrage" in the future?
"Universal suffrage" remains a goal set out in the Basic Law. The amendments to Hong Kong's electoral system this time is like conducting a "minimally invasive surgery". It doesn't change a word or a punctuation mark of Article 45 or Article 68 of the Basic Law. The goal of "universal suffrage" stipulated in the two Articles remains intact.
The central government has always been a promoter and defender of democracy in Hong Kong. The central government is sincere and patient in promoting democratic development in Hong Kong. As early as December 2007, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress decided that the Chief Executive could be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, and then all Legislative Council members could be returned by universal suffrage. In August 2014, the central government further clarified the roadmap and timetable for realizing universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council members. However, these were not realized in the end due to obstructions by the opposition camp.
Promoting democracy in a gradual and orderly manner in accordance with the law will ensure the early realization of the goal of universal suffrage. Certain social and political conditions must be met in order to achieve the goal of universal suffrage. For example, the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" has been fully implemented, and all sectors of society have reached basic consensus on the realization of universal suffrage. The August 31 Decision made in 2014 is a framework arrangement for achieving universal suffrage, and the Decision should still be respected when dealing with issues related to universal suffrage in the future.