Hong Kong Government

Hong Kong Is a Modern City Without a Modern GovernmentOn the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 21, Hong Kong student protesters demanding universal suffrage in the election for the city chief executive and the city’s legislature (called "Legco") sat down with their territory’s government — finally. The issue now is not whether the Hong Kong government negotiates with students; it is whether Beijing allows serious negotiation with Hong Kong legislators who also must consent to any change.

Read more from FP on Hong Kong

But because of requirements in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its mini-constitution, that any change in electoral law must receive a two-thirds vote in the Legco, each of three entities can veto constitutional change in Hong Kong: Beijing, democratic legislators, and tycoon legislators (that is, legislators elected not by Hong Kong people but by so-called "functional constituencies" that largely represent business). This prevents the city from solving its problems, which include outdated housing, the need to care for an aging population, insufficient jobs for workers after Hong Kong’s manufacturing economy has mostly moved into China, oligopolies that fleece Hong Kong people, and corruption at the top of the city’s government.

Beijing, which has averred it retains the right to pre-vet candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 election of a chief executive, is allergic to any suggestion that public protests can affect policy. But current unrest will continue to weaken Hong Kong in future elections for its head of government unless China, Hong Kong democrats, and Hong Kong tycoons move toward solving the issues causing the upheaval. So far, all three have been too proud to do so.

Beijing is unwilling to budge. It may not really want the mass "universal suffrage" vote for chief executive that the Basic Law promised as an "ultimate aim, " and that Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature promised in 2007 would occur in the 2017 election. China is sticking to that timeline, but with nominees pre-approved by a committee that Beijing controls. Disingenuousness hurts Beijing’s legitimacy among half of Hong Kong people, as reliable surveys show. China’s own laws raised the possibility of more democracy by now, and Hong Kong merits it; it is a more modern city, with less political apathy, than it was in colonial times.

Meanwhile, democratic legislators have vowed to vote against a law instituting chief executive elections of the restricted-nomination Iranian kind, in which Beijing becomes like an ayatollah who must approve all nominees that appear on the universal suffrage ballot. If democrats veto the change, Hong Kong would then revert to the 2012 form of chief executive election via committee, one that does not include public participation.

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