By M Ravi
Mr Shanmugam is correct to point out that Hong Kong was not a democracy in the 150 years when the British were in power.
When the British Crown colony of Hong Kong was surrendered back to Communist China in 1997, the Hong Kong people still had no universal suffrage in voting for their political chief.
Mr. Shanmugam says that Hong Kongers need to understand that China has acted in accordance with the Basic Law. The Hong Kong people need to recognise that they are part of China and there are some things that China will allow and others that China will reject.
However, the Law Minister’s observation is based on his understanding of the meaning of universal suffrage.
To this extent, attention is drawn to the alternative consultation paper jointly released by two Hong Kong pro-democracy groups, the Civic Party and Hong Kong 2020, in which the concept of universal suffrage had been addressed.
The paper pointed out that the Hong Kong government’s consultation document failed to place the issues surrounding the Chief Executive’s 2017 election method in the context of the legal principles that underpin the definition of universal suffrage, governed by Articles 25, 26 and 39 of the Basic Law, Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 21 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights (HKBOR).
The articles state that;
(i) All Hong Kong residents shall be equal before the law (Article 25 of the Basic Law);
(ii) Every permanent resident shall have the right to vote and the right to stand for election in accordance with law (Article 26 of the Basic Law);
(iii) Every permanent resident shall have the right without unreasonable restrictions to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage guaranteeing the free expression of the will of electors (Article 25(b) of the ICCPR applied to Hong Kong by Article 39 of the Basic Law and Article 21 of the HKBOR).
It is true that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Under the One Country, Two Systems formula, Hong Kong is not a sovereign country.
And this is where the best laid plans of bureaucrats run afoul of the wishes of ordinary people.
At issue is whether the Chief Executive should be freely elected by Hong Kong people without prior vetting by a nominating committee or pre-selected by a nominating committee before people may cast a ballot.
It seems a significant number of voters in Hong Kong prefer the former.
At this juncture, it is crucial to remind ourselves of the meaning of universal suffrage as underpinned by the legal principles mentioned above.
It is difficult to see why Hong Kong voters should be denied the right to choose their Chief Executive, not just through a one-person-one-vote system, but also in a direct election without first going through a select group of pro-Beijing elites. After all it is their Chief Executive!
It seems the fear of China, or rather the Chinese communist regime, is that someone who is not its loyalist might get elected.
Singapore faced teething problems when it became part of Malaysia. It was set free to follow its own path. This is not likely to happen to Hong Kong.
Will China be like the willow that moves with the winds of change or will it be like the rigid tree that watches one of its branches snap off?
Meanwhile we sympathise with the desire of Hong Kongers who want to have a say in managing their own affairs.