(This article, about Manohar Chugh, an Indian businessman in Hong Kong who is on an exclusive electoral college that will elect Hong Kong’s next leader, was published in DNA edition dated December 11, 2006. More on Mr Chugh here.)
Manohar Chugh, a 62-year-old NRI businessman in Hong Kong, enjoys a rare privilege that 7 million Chinese people of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) aspire for: a vote to elect the SAR’s Chief Executive next year.
Chugh was recently elected to the Election Committee, the 800-member electoral college that will choose the Chinese territory’s next leader, in an election process that’s likely to be held in February-March 2007. The composition of the complete Election Committee will be known on Monday, December 10, when the process to elect the Committee will be completed. But Chugh, who came from Mumbai in 1968 and now runs a multi-million dollar trading business in Hong Kong, was nominated as a candidate under the Commercial (1) sub-sector, and was elected unopposed.
“It’s an honour to serve on the Election Committee,” says Chugh, who has also served with distinction on the Committee for the Promotion of Racial Harmony, a government advisory body, and works to ensure that Indians and other ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are not racially discriminated against. “I have consistently given voice to the need to appoint people to government posts based solely on their ability, unbiased by racial considerations. And the fact that non-Chinese people like me can make it to the Election Committee is a good development.”
Pro-democracy campaigners have been demanding that the Chief Executive be directly elected by Hong Kong’s 7 million people, but universal suffrage – or ‘one person one vote’ – isn’t likely until 2012 or 2017. Currently, under Annex 1 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the 800-member electoral college will comprise 664 members nominated from different sectors of the economy, 60 members of the Legislative Council (Hong Kong’s unicameral legislature), 36 representatives from Hong Kong to the National People’s Congress (the highest legislative body in mainland China), and 40 members nominated by religious organisations.
Given the arithmetic of the Chief Executive election process, the incumbent leader, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who has the backing of Beijing, is certain to win that election – or “non-election”, as pro-democracy campaigners brand it. The pro-democracy Civic Party has put up Alan Leong, a barrister, as its candidate, but only if he wins the support of 100 members of the new Election Committee in a February election will his candidature go through to a run-off. Even Leong concedes that his chances are slim, but says he is contesting merely to articulate the democratic aspirations of the people.
Chugh’s own priorities are clear: he wants to see Hong Kong advance towards greater prosperity and a healthy environment, where the rule of law and a level playing field for all businesses, regardless of ethnicity, continues to be upheld. It is these considerations that will weigh with him when he votes in next year’s election.