Veteran politician and lawyer Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee has proposed a shadow election for Hong Kong’s leader ahead of next year’s chief executive election.

Ng, founding member of the pro-democracy Civic Party, wrote in Stand News on Monday that pro-democracy Election Committee members could form an alliance promising to nominate anyone who meets a certain threshold as a chief executive candidate, and then an unofficial referendum would be held for all eligible voters to pick the next leader of Hong Kong.

Barrister Margaret Ng. File Photo: Stand News.

The proposal

Hong Kong’s leader is elected by a 1,200-member election committee. The members represent various trades, professions, social services groups and district organisations, so as to meet the “broadly representative” requirement laid down by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

To become a chief executive candidate, one must secure nominations from at least 150 committee members.

Ng’s proposal involves organising pro-democracy Election Committee members into groups of 150. They would promise to nominate anyone endorsed by 50,000 Hong Kong residents. After the government announces the chief executive candidates, there would be an unofficial referendum for the public to choose the next chief executive from the real pool of candidates.

The barrister said that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying could also be nominated if he chose to participate in her shadow election and received 50,000 nominations from the public.

“But we would only have ourselves to blame if no one else received nominations from 50,000 out of 300,000-plus eligible voters in Hong Kong,” said Ng.

If more than one person received 50,000 nominations and there were only 150 committee members willing to participate in the plan, Ng said there would be a preliminary election round. She added that the operation of the shadow election would have to rely on public donations.

The 2014 unofficial referendum

Ng’s proposal is modeled after the 2014 plebiscite on political reform initiated by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, HKU law professor and a key figure behind the pro-democracy Occupy protests that shut down the heart of Hong Kong in the same year.

Benny Tai (centre) co-organised an unofficial referendum on Hong Kong’s political reform in 2014.

In June 2014, Tai organised an unofficial vote on the nomination methods for choosing the chief executive candidates in the lead up to Beijing’s announcement of its decision on Hong Kong’s political reform.

The controversy surrounding the composition of a “nominating committee” is owed to the requirement under Article 45 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that the chief executive shall be selected by universal suffrage “upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee.”

Currently, the Election Committee also serves as a nominating committee, but in 2014 the pro-democracy camp wanted to make the would-be nominating committee more representative.

Around 790,000 participated in the poll at the time, with three proposals that aimed to open up the nomination process to the general public receiving the most votes.

Despite popular support for less restriction on electoral freedom, Beijing handed down a decision denying open elections for the chief executive two months after the plebiscite.

Benny Tai co-organised an unofficial referendum on political reform in June 2014.

On the three most popular proposals from Tai’s informal referendum, Ng said: “The Bar Association was of the opinion that selecting chief executive candidates directly through public nomination would contravene the Basic Law – I disagree, but never mind – but it would not contravene the Basic Law if the election committee affirms the candidates chosen through public nomination.”

‘Possible breakthrough’

Ng said her proposal of getting some election committee members to nominate the people’s choices would therefore “completely comply with all of the Basic Law provisions.”

She said that the shadow election would allow for “genuine public participation” while having a tangible effect in influencing the chief executive election. “What is important is that Hongkongers must be tough and continue to look for [opportunities to] break through the multiple hurdles set by the central government.”

The barrister cited the pro-democracy politicians who ran for functional constituency seats in the Legislative Council election last month: “If [pan-democrats] can take over more functional constituency seats, the functional constituency will no longer be valuable to the central government,” she said.

“If even without the central government’s permission – let alone blessing – we can make a public nomination happen effectively, then Chinese officials’ condemnation [of the shadow election] would not matter at all.”

The chief executive election takes place on March 26 next year.

Correction 12/10: Around 790,000 participated in the civil referendum. A previous version of this article stated it was about 79,000.

Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.