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Nominating committee must be the servant of universal suffrage, not its master

2015/6/11 — 14:49

        In an interview given on 23 November 2014, Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal, Kemal Bokhary (包致金) commented that the nominating committee stipulated under Article 45 of the Basic Law “should be the servant of universal suffrage, not its master.”  Up to now, this is still the most articulate expression, in legal and emotional terms, of the true nature of Article 45, and it highlights why the government’s reform proposal must be vetoed.

        Mr Justice Bokhary’s comment poignantly focused the debate on to the essence of universal suffrage (a focus which appears to be deliberately lacking in the government’s promotional materials). The focus of Article 45 is not to guarantee a particular hierarchy in the election system. Its focus is to guarantee universal suffrage. The nominating committee is intended to serve that purpose.  Everything else is merely a means to that end of achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. If the nominating committee does not serve that purpose, then it is not in fulfilment of Article 45.

        Universal suffrage is the best means of achieving a truly inclusive system of governance in which the policy-makers are accountable to the public. In other words, the people become the masters, and the politicians become their servants.  The nominating committee must therefore provide a platform for genuine elections whereby the candidates need to be accountable to the whole populace. A government elected by an inclusive electoral method may not be the most efficient; it may not always make the right decision. But such method ensures that every voter feels he or she is casting a meaningful vote and playing a part in shaping Hong Kong’s future.  It ensures that the young people of Hong Kong do not feel disillusioned and helpless about the future of the city they love. It ensures that hundred of thousands do not feel the need to resort to civil disobedience in order to have their views heard.

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       Regrettably, the current government proposal is a total inversion of that master-servant matrix. You have no choice but to accept the choice of the nominating committee. You can either endorse their decision, or you can stay at home on election day. Like the government’s current hardline stance over its proposal, the situation is ‘take-it-or-leave-it’.  Even if a particular candidate gets only 10% of the votes, he will be elected as Chief Executive so long as he has more votes than the others. Whether you like it or not, one of the candidates will be elected – the only question is whether you take the superficial step of stepping into the voting station to endorse it.

        This is not an inclusive election process which makes the electorate the master and the candidates their servants. Instead, the nominating committee becomes the master, because candidates must pander to the committee members’ interests before they can even enter the race. The suggestion that the nominating committee – a replication of the present Election Committee – already represents the will of the people is risible. If that were the case, there would be no need to have a popular vote at all, and there would not have been such political momentum for the implementation of universal suffrage.

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        Worse still, the casting of meaningless votes for candidates over whom we have no real choice gives the elected candidate a dangerously false mandate to push through policies that may not be, and do not need to be, in the best interests of the general public. If the government’s proposal is passed, the government will have pickpocketed our right to universal suffrage under Article 45 and replaced it with a rubber stamp, the very antithesis of a meaningful vote.

        It is of course convenient for those who benefit by the current electoral system to reduce the debate into a question of “pocketing it first” (as if the right to vote were a mere commodity). Another marketing phrase used by the pro-government camp is to “take that step” towards the ultimate objective. But what exactly would we be pocketing? Towards what end would we be taking that step? In truth, we would be pocketing a complete perversion of what was promised us under Article 45, and taking an irretractable step to forever being enslaved by our own system of election. A Chief Executive selected under this system will have the false mandate of the people, but will serve only the interests of the nominating committee.

        Given the above, it is imperative that our legislators exercise their remaining power to force, through political means, a reconsideration of the government’s lamentable proposal. We do not urge the lawmakers to veto the proposal on the ground that it is merely imperfect.  We urge the lawmakers to veto the proposal because its passing would effectively destroy the very essence of the right to universal suffrage promised to us in Article 45.

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