Election law will usher in constructive, fair polling

The Legislative Council is scheduled to proceed with its second debate today over the Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021, with every likelihood of finalizing it the same week with the passing of its third reading.

The LegCo Bills Committee has conducted 12 meetings since April 17 to scrutinize the draft bill involving eight main-body articles and 24 auxiliary articles, and has unanimously endorsed all the changes put forth by the special administrative region government. 

After the passing of the bill, the government will have a mammoth and urgent task of implementing the law to organize the coming election of the Election Committee set for Sept 19, the election for LegCo on Dec 19, and the election for the chief executive on March 27.

There is no doubt that every effort should be made by every sector of society to ensure these elections are smoothly and successfully conducted, to create a new and effective political system for Hong Kong, free from all the damaging forces which have plagued LegCo and hampered its work in the past 20 years. 

In my view, we need to ensure that three objectives of the election law should be met. The primary objective is to ensure the electoral system should meet the goal of “only patriots governing Hong Kong”. This relies heavily on the effective implementation of the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee. 

There is no doubt that every effort should be made by every sector of society to ensure these elections are smoothly and successfully conducted, to create a new and effective political system for Hong Kong, free from all the damaging forces which have plagued LegCo and hampered its work in the past 20 years

The committee should not only rely on the intelligence of the police security branch, but should also involve the widest possible intelligence network, including all law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong, to ensure all candidates are fully vetted from all sources. It can operate a confidential hotline for the public to provide information on all election candidates. Apart from vetting the candidates themselves, they should also check on their close associates. It is quite possible that the opposition forces would put up someone with a clean slate to act as their puppet candidate to stand for election. This happened in the last District Council elections. The committee should also establish a rigorous disqualification system for elected people who subsequently breach their oath of allegiance and cause obstruction in LegCo affairs.

The third objective is that the candidates should be representing the whole society, and should not be seen as having only “one voice” dictated from above. Although there are already functional constituencies in LegCo, I think careful thought should be given to how the 40 LegCo members who are elected by the Election Committee can supplement the functional constituencies. My suggestion is that these 40 members should constitute the “shadow government” to monitor the work of all bureaus and departments and offer constructive advice as and when the need arises. This arrangement will also serve as a breeding ground for political talent and potential candidates for political appointments.  The second but equally important objective is to ensure that the new election system can enable good governance. Hence the successful candidates should not only be patriotic but also capable. Honestly, not all members of the current pro-establishment camp in LegCo are up to the task. What Hong Kong needs most now are reformists with expertise to help solve the many deep-rooted social problems concerning housing, poverty, education, care for the elderly and disabled, and medical and health services. But I am confident that Hong Kong is not short of talent. The problem in past years is that many of them, though eager to serve Hong Kong, were put off by the grandstanding politics at both the District Council and Legislative Council levels, where playing to the gallery is the name of the game and not genuine public service. With the new election law, every effort should be made by the government and the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to identify and persuade the creme de la creme of all sectors to join the race for the Election Committee and LegCo. The government has many consultative and advisory committees. Some of their chairpersons and members who have been performing well could be ideal candidates for these elections.

With the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the new election law, there are encouraging indications of moderate “pan-democratic” groups gradually replacing the radical political parties. They should be encouraged to join the race for the LegCo to ensure their voices can be heard in the chamber and that there is a multiplicity of views — an absolute requirement to any claim of democracy.

Finally, the opposition forces, particularly those lying low in the media and those agents of the foreign governments, will be watching all election activities hoping to expose any election irregularities, or even scandals. Frankly speaking, Hong Kong’s Corrupt and Illegal Practices Ordinance is among the strictest election laws in the world. It creates criminal offenses for minor issues such as providing refreshment and entertainment, gift giving, election expenses and electoral advertisement control, false claims of support and misrepresentation of qualifications, etc., all of which could easily become a trap for unfamiliar candidates. For example, under the new election reform law, most LegCo election candidates need to secure a minimum number of individual votes from members of the Election Committee before they can stand for election. If they meet in a restaurant in the process, offenses resulting from minor hospitality practices may be committed inadvertently. Similarly, offenses may be committed by the candidates’ overzealous assistants, in offering token gifts in the process of election campaigning. The Independent Commission Against Corruption has a mammoth task of educating all the new candidates and electors. They should launch a large-scale “Clean Election Campaign” to ensure Hong Kong maintains its tradition of clean elections.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Society for Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.