Hong Kong: Chief Executive Election In 2002 By: Josephine Chen Baptist University of Hong Kong Summer Intern 2001
Abstract Since the reversion of sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong has had a number of controversies surrounding its electoral arrangements. The second election of the post of Chief Executive (CE) to be held in March 2002 is the latest controversy. This paper will first provide a brief summary of the history of electoral arrangements in Hong Kong. It will then attempt to explore the CE election process by examining the nature and composition of the Election Committee, which elected 6 legislators for the 2000-2004 Legislative Council in September 2000, and which will elect the CE in 2002, to test a hypothesis that the 2002 CE election will not attract candidates unless the current CE does not run. The by-election in September 2001 for the vacated Election Committee seat seems to confirm the hypothesis. The paper ends with some observations.
Introduction Hong Kong will witness the second election of its Chief Executive (CE) in March 2002. The electorate is made up of the 800 members of the Election Committee (EC). The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s first CE, Tung Chee-hwa, is expected to stand for election again and is widely tipped to win although up until August 2001, he has yet to announce his candidacy. However, it appears that he has already started his re-election campaign. Furthermore, the race next year may only have one horse since no other person has indicated that he or she would stand against Tung. Historical Background In the run up to the return of sovereignty to China, the last British colonial Governor, Christopher Pattern, initiated a series of electoral reforms in Hong Kong. For example, he lowered the voting age from 21 to18 and introduced a more representative legislature to Hong Kong in 1995. Out of a total of 60 seats, 20 were returned by direct, geographically based elections; and an electoral college made up of directly elected District Board members returned 10 legislators. Of the remaining 30 functional constituency seats, a key aspect of the Patten reforms was to turn 9 of them into large, general constituencies, making all adult members of the working population eligible to vote. The Legislative Council (LegCo) returned in 1995 was regarded as the most democratically elected legislature in Hong Kong’s history. However, the legislature elected in 1995, which should have served till 1999, straddling the transition in 1997, did not survive as China felt that the electoral reforms did not reflect Sino-British agreement. China then began to make its own arrangements for the transition. It set up its own Preparatory Committee (PC) in December 1995 to oversee the transition in accordance to China’s interpretation of the Sino-British agreement and the Basic Law. The PC had 150 members, among them 56 Mainland members, 94 businessmen on good terms with
China, and politicians from Hong Kong. Businessmen accounted for 64.9% of the Hong Kong representatives.1 The PC established a 400-member Selection Committee (SC) (61.5% of them were businessmen)2 to “select” the first CE as well as members of a Provisional Legislature (PL) to take over on 1 July 1997. The SC chose people to sit on the PL supportive of China’s position, which served until April 19983. The PL again had an overwhelming number of business elites (61.7%).4 One of its key tasks was to pass electoral laws to elect the HKSAR’s first elected legislature in 1998. The emphasis China and Britain placed on economic rewards may be the major reason why businessmen were and still are always given much influence in the territory’s political institutions. After all, Hong Kong is the quintessential business town. So it is not an exaggeration to say that there are vested interests between business elites and the Government. From the British perspective, they wanted to maintain a stable and prosperous Hong Kong that could enable Britain to reap huge benefits. Throughout British rule, local business elites were appointed onto the Executive and Legislative Councils so that they could help to promote and defend government policy. As 1997 approached, Britain realised that China was a huge market, which she could not afford to lose. Britain was willing to adopt a conservative stance towards democratisation of Hong Kong. China, on the other hand, did not want to see a sudden acceleration of political liberalization in Hong Kong for fear that it may stimulate demand on the Mainland. China preferred to emphasize economic development and identified the business elites as those it needed to get on side in Hong Kong. Chief Executive Election According to the Basic Law, the CE is the head of the HKSAR, who shall be elected by a “broadly representative” EC and appointed by Beijing5, serving a five-year term and for not more than two consecutive terms. In 1997, the 400-member SC selected the first CE whose term ends in June 2002. An 800-member EC that “broadly represents” the community is responsible for selecting the 2nd term CE in March 2002. The Basic Law provides that the EC shall be composed of 800 members from the following 4 sectors: (1) (2) (3) (4)
200 from the industrial, commercial and financial sectors; 200 from the professions; 200 from labour, social services, religious and other sectors; and 200 from members of the LegCo, representatives of district-based organizations, Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress (NPC), and representatives of Hong Kong members of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Sing Ming, The Handover of Hong Kong and the Retrogression of its Democratic Development in Political Development in the HKSAR, edited by Joseph Y.S. Cheng, City University of Hong Kong, 2001 (Chapter 5 pp.101-117) p.104 2 Ibid. 3 Legislators in the democratic camp boycotted the PL. 4 Sing Ming, The Handover of Hong Kong and the Retrogression of its Democratic Development in Political Development in the HKSAR, edited by Joseph Y.S. Cheng, City University of Hong Kong, 2001 (Chapter 5 pp.101-117) p.104 5 See Annex I, Basic Law p.57
In 1998, the EC was “elected” to “elect” 10 members of LegCo. In the September 2000 election, a new 800-member EC “elected” 6 members of LegCo.6 The current EC has a 5-year term. With one of the 6 legislators, Ng Ching-fai, resigning in July 2001, a by-election is to be held in September 2001.7 Thus, before the CE election in March 2002, there would be two occasions to observe how the EC works – once with the September 2000 election for LegCo, the other with the by-election in September 2001. If one examined the composition of the EC in 1998, it can be seen that it is the political caucus representing the privileged few in Hong Kong – businessmen, professionals and people who are part of China’s political institutions. Of the 800 seats, 137 were reserved for members of the PL and China’s political institutions in 1998’s EC. Businessmen, professionals, legislators and members of China’s political institutions accounted for 75% of EC voters. The rest were made up of labour, social and religious groups. There were about 140,000 eligible voters in the EC election in 1998, in which 23.4% of them voted for the 800 member committee8. It should be noted that since some seats were ex-officio, such as legislators and members of China’s political institutions, no voting was needed for them. The Basic Law provides that reform for the method for selecting the CE shall be “in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee.”9 The timing for change is uncertain. LegCo Election in the HKSAR In May 1998, Hong Kong witnessed its first post-transition LegCo election after reunification with the Mainland. Whilst the composition of the seats was the same as in 1995, the electoral method was changed substantially. Here below is a comparison of the two legislatures: 1995 and 1998 LegCo Formation Functional Constituencies Functional constituencies (FC) returned half of the seats, but in 1998 the arrangement differed vastly from the one in 1995. The voting population was drastically reduced in the 9 widely based FCs and even with the other 21 FCs. It has been estimated that more than 2 million voters were removed from the electoral rolls.10 The number of eligible voters was less than 200,000. In other words, the electoral base for the 1998 election was a lot narrower than the one in 1995. The FC system of election essentially provides business and the professions with disproportionate influence on the electoral process in Hong Kong.
The Basic Law provides that for the first SAR election, 10 members would be returned by the EC and for the 2nd election, 6 members. Correspondingly, the number of legislators returned by geographical constituencies increased from 20 to 24 in 2000. 7 Ng Ching-fai resigned because he will head Baptist University. 8 David Newman and Alvin Rabushka Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule: The First Year in Essays in Public Policy, Hoover Institution http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/epp/90/90b.html 9 See Article 45, Basic Law p.19 10 David Newman & Alvin Rabushka Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule: The First Year in Essays in Public Policy, Hoover Institution http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/epp/90/90b.html
Geographical Constituencies In 1995 and 1998, 20 seats were returned by direct elections in the geographical constituencies (GC). In 1995, the election system was based on the “single seat, single vote” method. In 1998, a proportional representation system was adopted. It was widely believed and commented upon by commentators that the proportional representation method was more favourable to the smaller political parties, such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), which has strong links with Beijing. Election Committee The EC in 1995 returned 10 seats to the LegCo, it was composed by District Board members directly elected to their post. For 1998, an 800-member EC returned 10 legislators to the LegCo. Members of the EC by and large reflected the same sort of interest as those in the FCs. Again, it can be seen that 800 people can choose 10 legislators whereas the rest of Hong Kong can only elect 20 directly. If we added the 200,000 voters who elected 30 legislators (50%) and the 800 EC members who elected 10 legislators, two-thirds of the seats were controlled by a small minority of people. Moreover, the Basic Law imposes considerable constraints on legislators to introduce private bills, making it difficult for elected representatives to challenge government policies. To add insult to injury, the voting system for bills and motions further compromises the power of legislators. Annex II of the Basic Law provides that bills introduced by the Government only require a simple majority to pass but those moved by an individual legislator must go through a split voting process. FC members and GCs and EC members vote as two separate blocks. In order to pass, a majority vote must be achieved in both blocks. There have been occasions when the majority of the members have voted one way, and yet when votes were counted separately, the motion was not carried. 2000 LegCo Formation The 1998 legislative term was only for two years. The 2000 election was for a four-year term. Electoral arrangements remained essentially unchanged except that 4 of the 10 EC seats were given to the GC, thus the composition of the 2000-2004 legislature is made up of 30 FCs, 6 EC and 24 GC seats. Seats returned by the EC will be phased out in the 3rd LegCo election in 2004 when GCs and FCs will both elect 50% of the seats. The Basic Law does not specify the exact timing for when LegCo will be returned solely by direct election. It merely provides that: “The ultimate aim is the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage,”11 and that there may be possibilities post-2007. The process in the Basic Law for its amendment is arduous. It requires a two-thirds majority of LegCo to start the process as well as requires the endorsement of the CE, and then furthermore by Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress. Hong Kong clearly has to wait to see if there is true democratic reform in the years to come.
See Article 68, Basic Law p.27
2001 EC By-election After examining the electoral institutions in Hong Kong, we can now progress to see if the EC by-election in September 2001 may throw any insight on the CE election in 2002. The same 800member EC that elected Ng Ching-fai and the other five legislators to LegCo last year will elect a legislator in the coming by-election. The current CE was selected in 1996 by an election process set up by China using the SC as its electorate. Whilst the current EC is a different body, it is still dominated by the same types of interest as the 1996 SC. It is widely believed that the EC will choose a CE that has Beijing’s support since the membership reflects business and professional interests that are more conservative in nature. Indeed, there may be no candidate running against Tung in next year’s election resulting in him being automatically re-selected. Three candidates for the by-election have registered to compete for the seat vacated by Ng. They are Liberal Party member, Ho Sai-chu, who did not win a seat in the EC election last September, the New Century Forum’s Ma Fung-kwok, who also failed to win a seat last year, and Director of the China Business Centre at the Polytechnic University, Thomas Chan Man-hung. As Ho and Ma have a record in LegCo, both are from the conservative camp. As for Chan, he is a wellknown academic who is also very conservative-minded. The democratic camp did not field any candidate to run in the by-election probably because it believes the race to be not winnable as EC electorate is mostly from the conservative camp. Generally speaking, members of the EC and the public are not interested in the by-election due to the weakness of the legislature to check the executive. In the 2000 September election, voters had to cast all 6 votes for the six seats. For the by-election, they only have to cast one vote. The by-election will not offer any useful insight in how the EC will vote for the CE election, as there are only conservative candidates in the race. If candidates with different political views stood for the by-election, it would offer a more interesting opportunity to analyse how the EC will vote since even among the conservative camp, there appears to be dissatisfaction with Tung’s first term performance. The by-election is a very dull race.
How Tung Views His Voters Tung has shown relatively poor political skills since he is an inexperienced politician. However, if we observed his behaviour in recent months, he is clearly trying hard to improve his political skills and image to strengthen and enhance his legitimacy and run for another term. Lately, Tung had met legislators in a different way. He invited legislators from the Democratic Party for dinner under a more relaxed atmosphere in bid to ease the tense relationship. People from various sectors and organizations also had the chance to meet Tung. Some even told the media that they would consider electing Tung in 2002 after meeting with him face to face. The left wing Federation of Trades Union (FTU) is important to Tung’s re-election, since it controls a number of votes in the EC, and can appeal for other pro-Beijing figures in the EC to vote for Tung. In a controversial move, Tung awarded the HKSAR’s highest honour – the Grand
Bauhinia Medal to Yeung Kwong, who was a leading union organizer of the 1967 riots. 12 Commentators believe that Tung made the award in order to garner support for his re-election although the controversy surrounding the award backfired from a public perspective. These various activities indicate that Tung is interested in serving another term and is actively planning his re-election and has already started his re-election campaign. Conclusion In conclusion, the electoral system in Hong Kong does not represent popular will. Business and professional interests who occupy most of the seats in the legislature dominate the political system and the electoral system for FCs and the EC, which were designed to give them disproportionate influence. In any event, legislators have limited power to initiate policy. The promise of “Hong Kong People Ruling Hong Kong” has yet to materialize. At this moment in time, it does not appear that political reform will move ahead quickly in Hong Kong. The FC system will still function for the 2004 LegCo election and it is doubtful that the business interests there will want to vote for a reform package that does not give them such a significant role. References 1. Andy Ho, Search Ups a Gear for Challenger to Tung Re-election SCMP 2001/May/29 2. Bar Association, Submission of the Council of the Hong Kong Bar Association on Development of the HKSAR’s Political System to LegCo (LC Paper No. CB (2) 1284/99-00 (02) 3. Committee of the Promotion of Civic Education The Basic Law of the HKSAR of the PRC 4. Constitutional Affairs Bureau, Table of Comparison between the Basic Law and the Chief Executive Election Bill, 2001/Apr/3 5. Constitutional Affairs Bureau, Administration’s Responses to points raised on 31 May 2001 by Members of the Bills Committee on the Chief Executive Election Bill 2001/Jun/8 6. Danny Gittings, When Tung Steps up for Election SCMP 2001/Jun/9 7. David Newman & Alvin Rabushka Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule: The First Year Essays in Public Policy, Hoover Institution http://www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/epp/90/90b.html 8. Editorial: 1998 LegCo Election, the Most Complicated Election on Earth Hong Kong Voice of Democracy 1998/Apr/26 http://www.democracy.org.hk/oped/editorial/edi_98legco.htm 9. Emily Lau, Sham of Neutral CE Should Be “Shot Down” SCMP 2001/Apr/3 10. James O’Neil, Deputy Solicitor General (Constitutional) HKSAR, Developments in the Electoral System of the HKSAR in the Light of International Human Rights Standards 2000/Sep/9 11. James T H Tang, Dept. of Politics and Public Administration, HKU, Submission to the Public Consultation on “Development of the HKSAR’s Political System” for the Panel of Constitutional Affairs, LegCo, HKSAR LC Paper No. CB (2) 1155/99-00(03) 12. Joseph Cheng, Time for Tung to Step on the Soap Box, SCMP 2001/Jun/7 13. K H Woo, the Hon. Justice, Chairman, Electoral Affairs Commission The Function and Operation of the Electoral Affairs Commission 2000/Sep/9 14. Ma Ngok, The First HKSAR Election: Changed System, Changed Results, Changing Electioneering Techniques in Political Development in the HKSAR, edited by Joseph Y.S. Cheng, City University of Hong Kong 2001 15. Registration and Electoral Office Guidance Notes Application for Registration as an Elector in a Functional Constituency and as a Voter in an Election Committee Subsector REO-GNI (2000) 12
The 1967 riots in Hong Kong were related to the Cultural Revolution, where there were deaths and injuries and the memory remains fresh in many people’s minds and questions raised as to why the highest honour should be given to someone who caused damage, which Hong Kong people did not support.
16. Sing Ming, The Handover of Hong Kong and the Retrogression of its Democratic Development in Political Development in the HKSAR, edited by Joseph Y.S. Cheng, City University of Hong Kong 2001 Chapter 5 pp.101-117 17. Sonny S. H. Lo, The Changing Dimensions of Executive-Legislative Relations: The Case of Hong Kong in Public Administration and Policy vol.7, no.2, Sep. 1998 pp.73-103 18. Yash Ghai, Professor of Public Law, HKU, Role of the Chief Executive & Exco and the Civil Service (Transcript)