How Hong Kong Elections Work

The ultimate aim of Hong Kong’s “mini” constitution called the Basic Law is that the chief executive of the city should be elected by the people. Beijing has set a date for this – 2017 when the fifth chief executive election takes place.

Hong Kong skyline
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Hong Kong skyline

But any change in the electoral system requires two-thirds support of Hong Kong’s governing body, the Legislative Council, as well as approval from China’s National People's Congress.Currently only members of a select election committee can vote for the chief executive.

The group has grown from 400 in 1997 to 1,200 this year. They come from various interest groups, and are supposed to represent different sectors like Law, tourism and healthcare. But they are mostly Hong Kong’s elite hand picked by Beijing.

They include the rich and famous of Hong Kong, such as Asia’s richest man Li Ka-Shing, the Kwok brothers from Sun Hung Kai Properties, and members of the Legislative Council.

Fifty percent of the members of the Legislative Council are, however, elected via popular vote with remaining nominated by different industries.

In 2017, when Hong Kong's leader is supposed to be chosen by “one man one vote”, the Basic Law also states the candidates should be nominated by a "broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures."

However, who will be eligible to nominate the candidates as well as how the democratic process will work, is still not clear.

"Its still up to debate and up to the political development. So we cannot be too optimistic to think that the conservatives and democrats can reach a consensus on this controversial path," Ivan Choy, Senior Instructor at the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told CNBC.

And of course, after deciding who can be in the nomination committee, there comes the question of how to get nominated and take part in the race.

At the moment to be able to contest for the post of chief executive one needs the support of 150 members of the 1,200 strong election committee, which also in turn votes to elect the chief executive.

Critics say this procedure makes it difficult for those not so “well-connected” to join the race. For instance, Regina Ip, Former Security Secretary and now a local lawmaker, tried to get into the gate earlier, but failed to secure enough signatures. "I'm all for working out a low threshold that permits real competition," she said.

In 2004 the National People's Congress Standing Committee ruled out the idea of one man, one vote for the 2012 chief executive election, and only gave the green light for 2017.

But whether the 2017 promise will hold good is difficult to predict, as says Choy China’s political process is a “black box” and it's impossible to guess what thecountry's new leaderswill do after coming to power later this year.

He added that China’s leadership has some legitimate worries. "If we have universal suffrage in Hong Kong, then we may have, for example, party politics. So there would be another ruling party in China's territory besides the Chinese Communist Party. And so can Beijing tolerate that?"