Hong Kong citizens have never had the opportunity to directly elect their city's chief executive.
While Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, calls for “universal suffrage” as its “ultimate aim,” the head of government and numerous legislators have not been directly elected by citizens for the last 16 years.
Instead, Hong Kong’s chief executives have been chosen by special Election Committees with members elected from business and professional sectors. And, currently, almost half of all Legislative Council (LegCo) members have been elected through a similar system of “functional constituencies” that represent professional associations and special interests.
But Hong Kong’s citizens may finally have the opportunity for a more representative electoral system.
After decades of advocacy for electoral reform by Hong Kong activists and pro-democracy politicians, China’s supreme law-making body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, determined that Hong Kong may have universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election.
An official five-month public consultation process on electoral reform, which relies on town hall-style meetings and official submissions to the government, began last month.
The Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) at the University of Hong Kong, with support from NDI, is working to amplify citizens’ voices in that consultation process by creating Design Democracy Hong Kong (www.designdemocracy.hk), a unique and neutral website that gives citizens a place to discuss the future of Hong Kong’s electoral system.
Since current policymakers who are not directly elected have little motivation to consider public recommendations, Design Democracy hopes to gauge and promote citizens’ preferences on different models of universal suffrage.
Launched on Dec. 3, the Design Democracy website is the first interactive, politically neutral place where citizens can learn about the Hong Kong political system, engage with others in a debate about electoral reform, and easily share their views on social media and directly with the Hong Kong government.
The website, accessible in English and both traditional and simplified Chinese, encourages public dialogue and participation with the use of two tools. The first, called a “decision tree,” helps users to better understand what “universal suffrage” means and to design their own proposal for how it should work by walking them through the most important questions facing Hong Kong in the reform process.
The decision tree, for example, asks: “Who should have the power to nominate chief executive candidates?” As users respond to these and other questions, they are encouraged to explain their answers. Users can submit their proposals directly to the Hong Kong government from the Design Democracy website.
In the first few weeks after the website’s launch, more than 210 proposals were submitted and the Design Democracy Facebook page (www.facebook.com/designdemocracyhk) generated more than 1,150 “likes.”
The website’s second tool is the “forum,” where users can comment on a range of topics related to the election, such as whether candidates should have to receive a certain share of the vote to win an election outright. The Design Democracy team has also interviewed members of the legislature, scholars, young activists, and even celebrities to get their views on the prospects for reaching universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
Recordings of the interviews have been uploaded to YouTube and embedded on the forum to allow users to view and discuss them. The 25 videos posted so far have received more than 1,000 views.
Before the public consultation period ends in May, CCPL will analyze the proposals and data from the website and submit recommendations to the Hong Kong government. Later this year the government will design a reform package in line with guidelines set by Beijing that must be approved by two-thirds of the Legislative Council. Once the package is passed by LegCo and signed off on by Beijing, the Hong Kong SAR government will have to put in place the new institutions and procedures needed to carry out the 2017 chief executive election.
Watch the Design Democracy video:
- The Promise of Democratization in Hong Kong Reports 1997-2012»
- Local Elections, Long Term Effects? The Hong Kong District Council Elections of 2011»
- Calm After the Storm? Hong Kong People Respond to Reform»
Published Jan. 29, 2014