New electoral system yields the democracy city needs

Give a dog a bad name, then hang him! With no surprise, the Five Eyes, G7 and European Union have voiced “concern” over Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election, warning of “actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy”. But such rhetoric is just so much hypocrisy which would only fortify our determination to establish good governance for Hong Kong.

The improved electoral system did serve its main purpose of electing 90 patriotic legislators who have pledged to work with the majority of local residents to rebuild the city torn by the terrible 2019 social unrest. 

With the implementation of “patriots administering Hong Kong” to ensure the faithful and comprehensive implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle, local residents have a strong expectation for an allegiant but efficient and diversified representative governance. Having patriotic lawmakers from across the political spectrum, ranging from the traditional “pro-establishment” camp, independent professionals, scholars and businesspeople to moderate “pan-democrats”, passage of bills to improve people’s livelihood is expected to be handled more responsibly and efficiently. This is the real democracy Hong Kong people need badly now.

Picking qualified legislators was the first but crucial step to build a better Hong Kong. Without a social consensus to build a unified and harmonious community free from cyber doxxing, violence, intimidation by black-clad mobs, unnecessary physical confrontation and malicious filibustering in the legislature, sustainable prosperity for Hong Kong is an impossible dream. Hong Kong people have had enough of the 2019 ordeal where their daily life was seriously disrupted, job security crushed and lives even threatened.

Local residents still remember how some ridiculous so-called “pan-democratic” legislators who themselves are lawyers by profession incited youths to resort to violent protest by advocating toxic notions such as “achieve justice by breaking the law”.

On the other hand, taking advantage of the political wind, many opportunists called themselves “pan-democratic” supporters and ran in the District Council election that year. Many of these became district councilors and then openly refused to serve “pro-establishment” supporters in their constituencies when the latter approached them for help on community matters. How could municipal councilors decline to perform their duties to serve the community but at the same time call themselves “democracy  fighters”? Would any jurisdiction accept this kind of twisted political culture that accelerates political polarization at the expense of people’s livelihoods? 

One focal point of criticism of the new electoral system is that it has slashed the directly elected seats from 35 to 20, plus the implementation of a new vetting process to disqualify unpatriotic individuals from joining the race. The critics thus were quick to play up the low voter turnout rate, at 30.2 percent, citing it as evidence of the LegCo election’s “unpopularity”.

To a very large extent, members and supporters of the “pan-democratic” camp have themselves to blame. 

First of all, the Democratic Party did not nominate a candidate for the election despite the fact that the authorities had made it clear that the new electoral system will ensure diverse voices in the legislature, with the vetting mechanism targeting only the unpatriotic. The party missed the chance to reserve a place for themselves in the legislature for a possible comeback in the future.

Still, a total of 12 pragmatic “non-establishment” candidates without strong party support passed the vetting process to compete in the 10 geographical constituencies.

Nevertheless, without radical political agendas which are sensational and eye-catching but risk breaking the National Security Law for Hong Kong, the manifestoes of these moderate “non-establishment” candidates focusing on economic and livelihood issues were not attractive enough to the “pan-democratic” supporters; and since they already have a preconception on the new electoral system which they think would not shape Hong Kong into the way they would hope for — a Western-style legislature with 100 percent directly elected seats achieved overnight — they did not give a damn about casting a vote. 

Another factor which contributed to the low turnout is that a very large number of “pan-democratic” supporters took advantage of the government’s ad hoc arrangement of providing free rides on public transport on the election day. Instead of casting their votes, they took free public transport to go hiking and outing, dubbing it “Sports For All Day”. 

In previous elections, the voting ratio between the traditional “pro-establishment” camp and “non-establishment” camp hovered around 60-40. If many “pan-democratic” supporters do not vote, their candidates will have no chance to win. This was exactly the case in Sunday’s LegCo election. All of the 12 moderate “non-establishment” candidates lost in the race; and only Tik Chi-yuen, chairman of the small centrist Third Side Party, who represented the social welfare sector in the functional constituency won out.

Politics is an art of compromise. Unfortunately, the “pan-democratic” voters failed to view the new electoral system from a wider and further perspective, and did not give their candidates a chance.

Now, the imminent challenges for the newly elected legislators are to deliver their promises to monitor effectively the executive-led governance and work efficiently with government officials to provide solutions to the many deep-rooted problems plaguing Hong Kong. 

On the other hand, knowing that the LegCo election has also drawn wide international attention, the State Council Information Office issued on Dec 20 a white paper titled “Hong Kong: Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems” to refute the slanders by some foreign countries on the democratic development of Hong Kong.

The white paper reassures the international community that the development of democracy in the HKSAR will be in line with the region’s realities, and that Hong Kong will move toward the ultimate goal of election by universal suffrage of the chief executive and all members of LegCo.

But most importantly, it says: “Development of democracy in Hong Kong should help the region to integrate into the broader framework of national development, and keep it highly open, as the common home of both Chinese and foreign residents who work and live here, and a destination of opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors from around the world.”

That is what everyone here, who treats Hong Kong as home, wants to see.

The author is a member of the Hong Kong Association of Media Veterans and a freelance writer.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.