Recent Elections: In 2012, in a process widely criticized as undemocratic, the 1,193-member CE Election Committee, dominated by proestablishment electors and their allies, selected C.Y. Leung to be the SAR’s chief executive. Leung received 689 votes. The PRC’s State Council formally appointed him, and then President Hu Jintao swore in Leung.
The next chief executive election is scheduled for March 2017 under an electoral process identical to the 2012 process, because the LegCo rejected an electoral reform package in June 2015 that prodemocracy legislators considered insufficiently democratic on the grounds that it did not allow voters directly to nominate the candidates for chief executive. On December 11, representatives of various commercial sectors, professions, religious organizations, and social service providers, as well as political representatives, elected the 1,194 electors who will cast ballots in the next chief executive election. Residents voiced concern that these small-circle elections were open to participation by a very small number (230,000) of the SAR’s 7.5 million residents. Additionally, while the 2016 Election Committee elections saw historically high turnout of 46 percent and a record number of contested seats across industrial, professional, grassroots, and political sectors, local political observers noted 300 members--approximately 25 percent--of the committee were elected without a poll or other transparent election process to represent 12 uncontested subsectors and one sub-subsector.
In September SAR residents elected representatives to the 70-member LegCo. The election, which saw record high turnout of 2.2 million voters, or over 58 percent, was considered generally free and fair according to the standards established in the Basic Law. The government acknowledged election observers and other residents had filed approximately 1,200 petitions about election misconduct with the Elections Affairs Committee following the conclusion of the LegCo election. Pro-PRC and proestablishment candidates won 40 of 70 LegCo seats, while prodemocracy candidates won 30, an increase over the 27 the opposition camp held from 2012 to 2016.
In July, for the first time the government announced all LegCo candidates would have to sign a Confirmation Form pledging their allegiance to the SAR and their intent to uphold the Basic Law, including three provisions that stated Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the PRC. Legal scholars and prodemocracy activists criticized the government’s use of the Confirmation Form, noting the LegCo had not approved this change to the election procedures or the requirements for candidates to stand for legislative office. In August the government disqualified proindependence LegCo candidate Edward Leung, of the Hong Kong Indigenous party, from running in the election in the New Territories East district. An elections officer refused Leung’s candidacy, even though Leung had signed the Confirmation Form and said he would drop his proindependence stance. Leung and another candidate filed judicial review applications charging that the use of the Confirmation Form was not in accordance with the SAR’s laws. Leung also filed an elections petition in September alleging his disqualification from the race was unlawful.
Some observers expressed concern that the interpretation could restrict the right to stand for office guaranteed in Article 26 of the Basic Law for those who espouse proindependence views, and possibly for those who support self-determination as well. At the end of the year, the Hong Kong high court had disqualified two proindependence legislators-elect, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, from taking office. The September election of proindependence legislators followed a July poll of public opinion conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong that found that while only 4 percent of respondents thought independence was possible for Hong Kong, 17 percent of them, including 39 percent of respondents aged 15 to 24, supported independence when the current political arrangement expires in 2047.
At a press conference announcing the NPCSC interpretation, NPCSC Legal Committee Chair Li Fei suggested that support for self-determination would be treated the same as promoting independence, and could thus disqualify legislators under the new interpretation. On December 2, Chief Executive Leung and Secretary for Justice Yuen filed a legal challenge to the legitimacy of four other opposition legislators--veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, former Occupy Central student leader Nathan Law, lecturer Lau Siu-lai, and university professor Edward Yiu--over the manner in which they took their oaths. The courts accepted the government’s judicial review application on December 15, and initial hearings for the cases are expected to be held in February 2017. Support for “localist” platforms, including self-determination (generally understood to refer to a referendum on Hong Kong’s status in 2047) was a key component of several elected legislators’ platforms, including those of Law and Lau.
The Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) was estimated to have received well over 200 complaints concerning alleged breaches of provisions under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. Media reported the complaints included allegations of fraudulently registering voters without their consent, bribing voters, voting after giving false or misleading information to an elections officer, incurring election expenses by persons other than the candidate or his agent, publishing false or misleading statements about a candidate, publishing election advertisements that did not meet certain requirements, failing to file election returns, and providing others with refreshments and entertainment at elections.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Pandemocratic parties faced a number of institutional challenges, which hampered them from securing a majority of the seats in the LegCo or having one of their members become CE. Of LegCo’s 70 seats, 30 were elected by FCs, most of whom are supportive of the central government; representatives from 12 of these constituencies ran unopposed, while over 150 parties contested the SAR’s 35 GC seats. The law does not permit tax-exempt contributions to political parties. The voting process helped ensure that proestablishment allies controlled a majority of seats in LegCo. Additionally, the central government and its business supporters provided generous financial resources to parties that supported the central government’s political agenda in the SAR, ensuring that these organizations would control the levers of government and senior positions. According to local press reports, several political groups voiced concern that the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO) interfered with legislative campaigns, lobbying for pro-Beijing candidates and threatening or harassing others. In August, Liberal Party candidate Ken Chow suspended his campaign for a LegCo seat, alleging CGLO affiliates had harassed him and threatened the safety of his family. At year’s end, the ICAC, the Liberal Party, and the HKG had undertaken investigations into Chow’s allegations. Chow subsequently quit the Liberal Party.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Five of the 30 members of the Executive Council (cabinet-level secretaries and “nonofficial” councilors who advise the CE) were women. Eleven of the 40 directly-elected LegCo members were women, and a woman held one of the 35 FC seats. Fourteen of the 45 most senior government officials (secretaries, undersecretaries, and permanent secretaries) were women.
There is no legal restriction against non-Chinese running for electoral office, serving as electoral monitors, or participating in the civil service, although most elected or senior appointed positions require that the officeholder have a legal right of abode only in the SAR. There were no members of ethnic minorities in the LegCo. The government regarded ethnic origin as irrelevant to civil service appointment and did not require applicants to declare their ethnicity or race in their applications for government jobs. Some observers criticized this practice as preventing the government from monitoring hiring and promotion rates for individuals who were not ethnically Chinese. In March, citing underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the government, a local foundation published a list of 16 ethnic minority candidates who had relevant experience and Cantonese language, encouraging the government to appoint these candidates to serve on government advisory committees.