Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

Prospects for Democracy in Hong Kong: Results of the 2012 Elections *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

Prospects for Democracy in Hong Kong: Results of the 2012 Elections *

Article excerpt


The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Hong Kong, or HKSAR) held elections for its expanded, 70-member Legislative Council (Legco) on September 9, 2012, ending an 11-month period in which the city also elected members to its District Councils and selected Leung Chu- ying (CY Leung) as its new Chief Executive. The newly elected Legco and Chief Executive will have the opportunity to consider further political reforms that could result in the election of the Chief Executive and the Legco members by universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020, respectively.

The process of selecting the new Chief Executive and the results of the 2012 Legco elections, however, may foretell problems for Hong Kong's prospects for democracy. The selection of CY Leung as Chief Executive appeared to be engineered by the Chinese government after an alternative leading candidate lost the favor of Beijing due to a series of personal scandals. In addition, while a majority of the newly elected Legco members are generally regarded as being sympathetic to the preferences of the Chinese government, the pro-democracy members won enough seats to block future election reforms that they consider unacceptable. The 2012 election results may have raised the risk of a political stalemate for democratic reforms in Hong Kong.

The outcome of Hong Kong's 2012 elections matters to Congress for three key reasons. First, the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-383) states, -Support for democratization is a fundamental principle of United States foreign policy. As such, it naturally applies to United States policy toward Hong Kong. This will remain equally true after June 30, 1997" (the date of Hong Kong's reversion to China). Second, Hong Kong's Basic Law, a quasi-constitution for the city passed by China's National People's Congress in April 1990, stipulates that the -ultimate aim" is the election of the Chief Executive and -all the members of the Legislative Council" by universal suffrage. The conduct of the 2012 elections and the possibility of additional political reforms are indicators of the Chinese government's commitment to the Basic Law and its support for the democratic reforms within a territory over which it exercises sovereignty. Third, some scholars speculate that Hong Kong may serve as a testing ground for possible democratic reforms in Mainland China, either as part of an officially recognized process or as the result of a populist movement such as occurred in 1989. The notion is that tolerance or acceptance of democracy in Hong Kong may signal a willingness by China's leadership to entertain political reforms in other parts of China. Conversely, if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to forestall further democratic reforms in Hong Kong, it may signal the CCP's opposition to changes in its political system.

Congress may choose to assess and possibly assist the prospects for democracy in Hong Kong. In the past, funds were appropriated for the promotion of democratic practices in the city, and Congress may decide to continue to appropriate such funds. In addition, Congress may decide to hold hearings or other educational events to garner greater awareness of the democratization of Hong Kong.


The Basic Law established an executive-run government in Hong Kong, led by the Chief Executive, similar in structure to how the city was administered under British colonial rule. Under current Hong Kong law, the Chief Executive is selected by an Election Committee that also serves as a nominating committee for candidates for the position. As the result of election reforms approved in 2010, the Election Committee was expanded from 800 to 1,200 members and the threshold for nomination was increased from 100 to 150 members.1 Most of the Election Committee members are appointed by various organizations and associations, but current Legco members and some elected District Council members are also included. …

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