Hong Kong Leader Supports Screening Candidates

Jiaying Xu '17 Contributing Writer

Hong Kong’s top leader, Leung Chun-ying, claimed in a report on the electoral system, that if the government met pro-democracy protesters’ demands it would result in the city’s poorer people dominating elections. This is in direct opposition to a key proposal of many Hong Kong pro-democracy groups: that voters win the power to directly nominate candidates for the city’s Chief Executive, the top post in the city.

The dismissal of the proposition, while not surprising, brought the city closer to fresh confrontation over its political future, experts said.

Although Leung acknowledged protesters’ anger over the lack of social mobility and affordable housing in the city, he argued that the containing of populist pressures was an important reason for resisting the protesters’ demands for fully open elections. He said that if “you look at the meaning of the words ‘broadly representative,’ it is not numeric representation.”

Instead, he backed Beijing’s position that a “broadly representative” nominating committee appointed by Beijing must first screen all future Chief Executive candidates. He explained that screening would insulate candidates from popular pressure to create a welfare state, and would allow the city government to follow more business-friendly policies to address economic inequality.

Leung’s blunt remarks reflect a widely held view among the Hong Kong elite: that the general public cannot be trusted to govern the city well. However, this remark angered pro-democracy groups and politicians, who thought that Leung was just pandering to the whims of a small number of tycoons who dominate the financial hub.

The complaints of pro-democracy groups are justified. Arguably, the “fake democracy” supported by CY Leung is unlikely to satisfy the interests of rich elites in the long run. Greater democratic freedom in the semi-autonomous city must be in balance with the city’s powerful business elite who would have to share their “slice of the pie” with voters. Beijing’s undercutting of universal suffrage in Hong Kong gives the Chinese government the means to revoke the city’s autonomy promised by the Basic Law, a constitutional document drawn up after Hong Kong’s independence from Britain in July 1997. In this way, the Chinese government could ensure that a committee dominated by loyalists, based on one that now appoints the Chief Executive and acts as gatekeeper for candidates, thus engineering outcomes favored by Beijing.