After a year of extended anticipation due to postponement, the Legislative Council election finally took place on Dec 19 when the people of Hong Kong cast their votes for the new-term LegCo. Over 1.32 million voters flocked to the polls as every single seat was fiercely contested.
The last LegCo election in 2016 and the legislature so composed were mired in mudslinging, political posturing, scandals, rabble-rousing, personal attacks, physical attacks, and all manner of personal and political intimidation. Finally, all these have been dealt with by the new election system, and the people of Hong Kong may finally rest easy.
But even with the relief provided by the calm and peaceful polling day, some Western news outlets were quick to focus on the low voter turnout, which naturally diverts attention away from all things positive about the election.
Such critics seem to be interested only in the 30.2 percent turnout rate (of the 4.5 million eligible voters) in the Geographical Constituency and claimed that this was a sharp contrast to the 58 percent of the previous LegCo election in 2016, and the 71 percent for the 2019 District Council election.
What they chose to ignore is that this time, 153 candidates vied for 90 LegCo seats, and with the exception of the single candidate who was disqualified for his part-time role as a civil servant, all other candidates quickly passed the vetting. So the election was politically inclusive, balanced, and competitive. The vetting process, which was conducted by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, ensured that all candidates complied with the constitutional, and other legal, requirements. This again was an improvement on the last election, which produced elected candidates who had to be disqualified because of their stance against the Basic Law provisions.
Although all eligible voters in Hong Kong have the right not to vote, I must express my deep disappointment at the 3 million or so voters who abdicated their democratic right and responsibilities.
Some anti-Beijing activists while in hiding in Western countries also openly urged voters to cast blank votes as a form of protest.
While casting a blank vote is not illegal in Hong Kong, these activists, and after all they are activists, should know too well that inciting others to cast blank ballots or to not vote at all is illegal and therefore punishable by law.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption has arrested gullible young people who listened to such activists.
I am optimistic about the new LegCo as it will be filled by elected patriots from a broad range of sectors, political backgrounds, age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, and representative of the broad spectrum of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents.
Added to this diversity is the point about nationality. The Basic Law allows up to 20 percent of LegCo members to be foreign nationals, which is in stark contrast to the universal practice elsewhere in the world of admitting only non-foreigners as members of the legislature. This provision demonstrates once again why we cannot blindly compare the political and electoral system that we have in Hong Kong to those in other places — Western countries included.
What can be expected of the new LegCo? I think we can safely say that it will be more effectual and more efficient. Over the last four years, 108 legislative bills failed to see the light of day, and projects such as the construction of hospitals (which were sorely needed by our aging city) were inordinately delayed because of endless filibustering by opposition members who showed no interest other than political bickering. And while the National Security Law for Hong Kong certainly filled the gaps in Hong Kong’s need for political security, our city is in dire need of complying with Article 23 of the Basic Law and passing into local law prohibitions against national security crimes, so that we can finally complete the safeguarding of the city’s stability and, moreover, the interest of the country.
To those naysayers, particularly those abroad, who claim that Hong Kong’s democratic interests are being eroded, I say the following:
When Hong Kong was returned to China some 24 years ago, the principles of “one country, two systems” and “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” with a high degree of autonomy were carefully followed in the design of Hong Kong’s political structure, including its unique democratic system. It was not intended to be a carbon copy of Britain’s own Parliament because Hong Kong is not a sovereign country. But at the same time, unlike, say, London, Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy, which comes about not by voters’ mandate but by the additional authorization of the central authorities of China according to China’s constitution.
Further, under the Basic Law, the Hong Kong SAR government is accountable to the Legislative Council in only four areas. Namely, it must abide by the laws it passes; it must implement said laws; it must present regular policy addresses to LegCo; and it must obtain LegCo’s approval for taxation and public expenditures. This is one of the grounds on which we say Hong Kong has an “executive-led” government.
I hope that new LegCo members — more than 60 percent of this term’s legislators have never served in LegCo — will get onto as fast a learning curve as possible, and that LegCo will be able to get into full swing before too long, to deal together with the executive branch, the many outstanding and delayed social and economic issues.
Hong Kong cannot wait and definitely cannot afford more wasteful years. A stable political environment is badly needed, and a sensible LegCo that follows the requirements of the Basic Law is what Hong Kong will count on to restabilize itself.
The author is president of think tank, Wisdom Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.