With the first batch of district councilors abiding, with only one failing to turn up and a few others defaulting in support of strong evidence, by the oath-taking requirement by swearing allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on Monday, the city's revamped governance has started to take a solid functional shape. This loyalty pledge arrangement was passed in May by the Legislative Council (LegCo), in compliance with the rule to enforce "patriots governing Hong Kong". The local governance moved one step further toward a desirable state with Sunday’s successful election exercise for the overhauled Election Committee. In short, all the major proposals that were deliberated at length and adopted for improving the political system of the HKSAR are moving forward in their agreed forms and contexts.
Could we, however, imagine before June 30 last year that any political reforms formulated in the residents' interest of guaranteeing the city's stability and prosperity would have any chance of becoming a reality? As circumstances then stood, chances of them turning out to be wishful thinking were almost confirmed from the outset.
Less than fifteen months ago, the SAR's government was nearly torn asunder by groups of opposition-leaning politicians under the possible orchestration of centrifugal forces abroad. All hopes were dashed for even a modest degree of mutual support between the executive authorities and the legislature for a reform exercise with such gigantic dimensions and significance. Such a dilemma was summarized by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Eric Tsang Kwok-wai when the bill was presented in March in the LegCo, that the overriding justification for revamping the local electoral arrangements was to reinstate the constitutional order following the devastating political disturbances in 2019 that threatened to jeopardize the foundation and survival of Hong Kong society and endanger the sovereignty and security of our homeland.
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The overhaul of the electoral system has made a good start in this direction, and it is hoped that Sunday’s Election Committee election has strengthened the salient features of this much-hailed fortress for the HKSAR's sustained stability and prosperity.
Consequential to the Basic Law – a constitutional document – and the associated political system being bestowed by the central government, Beijing does have the constitutional powers and responsibilities to monitor ultimately its proper functioning and necessary revisions. On this basis, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs decided that it was perfectly legitimate and justified for the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, to enact the National Security Law (NSL) for the HKSAR last June amid its exacerbating political turmoil and to approve the incorporation of electoral amendments into Annexes I and II of the Basic Law. In return, the HKSAR government has the constitutional responsibility to complete the local legislation to get the centrally approved electoral reform off the ground.
Of primary interest to the electoral public, the facelifted election framework includes the following main features:
1. The Election Committee has been expanded from the 1,200 to 1,500 members, which includes HKSAR deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) and the city's representatives in the Central People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – China's top political advisory bodies, and established mainland social, academic and economic groups.
2. The designated new members in the Election Committee constitutes a new, fifth sector.
3. The LegCo will increase its seats from the present 70 to 90, and some LegCo members will be returned by the Election Committee.
4. Aspiring Chief Executive candidates must secure a minimum of 188 nominations, of which at least 15 are to be from each of the Election Committee's five sectors.
5. A new 7-member Candidate Qualification Review Committee has been set up to vet the qualifications of candidates in all elections.
6. The 90 LegCo seats will be split by a ratio of 20-30-40 among the geographical constituencies, functional constituencies and Election Committee constituency.
While being lauded by an extensive range of community leaders for holding in check the SAR from lapsing into dysfunctional governance and economic underperformance, the move to plug up the loopholes in the city's governance structure has been continually railed against by the local opposition factions who are echoed or even led by overseas forces, especially the US. Indeed the latter does not have any moral capital to maneuver in compelling China and itsHKSAR to feel the lash of its tongue, after the Washington Capitol Hill's deadly incident on January 6 this year and the ongoing Afghanistan crisis induced by the US's abrupt pullout from the country, thereby kicking up a severe economic downturn that "could throw many more millions (of Afghan people) into poverty and hunger." (UN envoy to Afghanistan)
With their accusations against the NSL having been repeatedly and unarguably refuted by China's Foreign Ministry and representatives of the central government in the HKSAR, the anti-China forces here and abroad have ignored the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's reassurance given in March when he delivered the State Council's annual work report that Beijing continues to be committed to upholding the "one country, two systems" principle. And instead of scaring the city into a politically shaky and vulnerable state, the en masse departure of nearly all the “pan-democratic” lawmakers late last year have not led to the contrived leg-dragging effect on the operation of the Legislative Council. Bills on essential livelihood subjects have been passed, and enthusiastic, rational debates on policy topics have characterized the LegCo chambers since the resignation of the legislators seeking incessantly filibustering and "mutual destruction" in the LegCo building. As disclosed by the Chief Executive last week, financial requests totaling HK$320 billion in public spending have been scrutinized and approved by the LegCo so far this year, and this is in stark contrast to the previous situation where bureau heads were tired of enduring the opposition lawmakers’"mutual destruction" style of managing public budget requisitions. Such vital progress in public business bears cogent testimony to the smooth cooperation between the administration and legislature, while ensuring that the latter's open and liberal manner is preserved in fulfilling its law-making and monitoring roles.
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The General Chamber of Commerce has just forecast stronger GDP growth from 3.5 to 6.3 percent this year – an increase of nearly three percentage points on its previous prediction – in line with the government's projection of economic growth between 5.5 and 6.3 percent. The upward revision has stemmed from the city's capability to keep the COVID-19 pandemic at bay, and the partial pick-up of the global demand for goods. The chamber's CEO has cited, among other factors, the maintenance of a "stable operating environment" as a major determinant for the optimistic "return to normalcy" in business.
These are among the clear indications that the effective pandemic control the government is achieving and the significant advancement in economic recovery can be materialized only with a stable, efficient and politically inclusive governance. The overhaul of the electoral system has made a good start in this direction, and it is hoped that Sunday’s Election Committee election has strengthened the salient features of this much-hailed fortress for the HKSAR's sustained stability and prosperity.
The author is a member of the Chinese Association for Hong Kong and Macao Studies.