The primary intention behind the revamping of the electoral system of Hong Kong is to ensure the achievement of the widely proclaimed strategic goals of “one country, two systems”. These goals include forging national unity, protecting national security, patriots administering Hong Kong, executive-led governance, promoting Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, as well as propelling Hong Kong to participate in a unique way in the motherland’s modernization. Yet, from Beijing’s perspective, these goals have not been completely and satisfactorily attained 24 years after Hong Kong’s return to the motherland. The fundamentally revamped electoral arrangement for the Legislative Council is the linchpin of the comprehensive electoral reform package devised by Beijing. It is envisaged that the legislature elected under the new electoral rules will function to reach the goals of “one country, two systems” and thus clear the way for its continuation beyond 2047. The results of Sunday’s legislative election will enable the Legislative Council to reposition itself and ensure the achievement of those goals.
The Legislative Council election took place in a political context wherein political order and stability in Hong Kong has basically been restored thanks to the National Security Law for Hong Kong, the anti-China elements and people rejecting Hong Kong’s constitutional order are excluded from Hong Kong’s elections and governance, and practical socioeconomic issues have displaced divisive political issues as the top items on Hong Kong’s public and electoral agenda. Much heartened and emboldened by the congenial political atmosphere, many patriotic social, economic and professional elites, who in the past abstained from or were abhorrent of politics, actively joined the electoral fray. Apparently, Beijing also played a crucial role in encouraging the entry of elites into the electoral game. Intense competition among candidates thus ensued. The elections have given rise to a Legislative Council not only featuring a majority of new and young faces but also members with proven socioeconomic achievements, professional and administrative expertise, and recognized social status. Most of these new legislators abjure party affiliations and are proud of their independent political posture. Notably, a substantial proportion of them have a strong and enduring relationship with the Chinese mainland and hence are well-versed in national affairs. The proportion of members in the new Legislative Council whose primary career is political and who “specialize” in political contests with the opposition as well as electoral maneuvers is a minority. From another vantage point, the emergence of such a legislature testifies to the undeniable fact that Hong Kong has depoliticized and deradicalized considerably.
In the new legislature, with a great turnover of membership, most of the novice legislators identify themselves as professionals rather than politicians, refuse party labels and abjure party affiliation. They will define their job as promoting Hong Kong’s prosperity, ensuring Hong Kong’s stability, improving people’s livelihood, accelerating Hong Kong’s economic integration with the Chinese mainland, and forging closer ties between Hong Kong residents and their mainland compatriots
Since Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, politics inside the Legislative Council was characterized by unrelenting partisan strife, primarily between the opposition parties and “pro-establishment” parties. Activities and issues within the legislature were rancorously politicized in one way or another. The opposition legislators were particularly disposed to score political points by objecting to or obstructing everything coming before the legislature. Various forms of filibustering were unscrupulously used to obstruct the work of the legislature. The purpose was to make life as difficult as possible for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. As a result, even run-of-the-mill social and livelihood issues became political pawns in the opposition’s war against its foes. This state of affairs will assuredly not recur in the new legislature.
The new Legislative Council, now under the complete control of patriots, will function effectively as the guardian of national security and unity. The legislators will be more supportive of legislation aimed at protecting national unity and security such as the local legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law. No longer will the legislature degenerate into a den of anti-China, anti-communist and secessionist politicians who had been skillful in raising toxic political issues in the body, made a mockery of the national Constitution and the Basic Law, and impaired the legislature’s relationship with Beijing. Moreover, these intransigent and destructive opposition forces can no longer turn the legislature into a platform to mobilize and organize protest actions to endanger national unity and security as well as social peace. Adversarial external forces will also be denied the means to groom or implant their agents or proxies in the center of Hong Kong’s governance structure.
After the banishment of the opposition from the Legislative Council elections, the new legislature shares the same political base of support with the chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR, a political base made up primarily of patriots. Admittedly, in view of the constitutional powers of the legislature to hold the government accountable and salient public demand that the legislators check and balance the executive, some degree of tension in executive-legislative relationship is natural, healthy and constructive. In the past, even some “pro-establishment” legislators felt that they had to “pretend” to be critical of the government and even occasionally deny it their support to appease their constituencies and the public. In any case, most of the “pro-establishment” legislators were leery of developing too close a relationship with the executive branch. Consequently, the HKSAR government could not rely on stable, continuous and reliable majority support from the Legislative Council. A lot of time had to be spent and some horse-trading had to be done to come up with ad hoc majorities in the legislature and pass the laws proposed by the government. Under these circumstances, “executive-led” governance and effective rule were impossible. In the new Legislative Council, while a high degree of cooperation and amicability between the executive and the legislature is not anticipated, nor is it desirable, by and large however we can reasonably expect more stable, continuous and reliable majority support for the executive branch from the legislature in the days ahead, thus making “executive-led” governance a reality.
We can also expect the legislature to play a more important role in the making of public policies. In the past, the government officials of the HKSAR were overly jealous of their decision-making power and obsessive about keeping official information “secret”. As a result, even those legislators who were most supportive of the government were oftentimes excluded from the policymaking process of the government. If the policies made by the government were widely opposed or failed in the end, these government-friendly legislators, however, could not escape from being blamed and castigated by the public. In the future, both legislators and high-ranking officials belong to the same patriotic camp, and both Beijing and the Election Committee (which has elected 40 legislators out of a total of 90 and whose members are part of the nominators of all candidates contesting the legislative elections) will demand a stronger partnership between the legislature and the executive branch in the making of public policies. In the new political context, the varieties of interests and opinions represented by the legislators can be better reflected in the policymaking process, especially in its early stages. Accordingly, not only will the government’s bills and decisions be able to sail through the legislature more smoothly, but the policies eventually promulgated by the government will be able to garner public support and be implemented more easily.
The new Legislative Council, with a majority of its members possessing substantial professional, administrative and research expertise, will focus mainly on practical matters and position itself as a problem-solver. In the past, as political infighting in the legislature was the norm, political issues such as political reforms were given priority, whereas the serious economic, social and livelihood issues remained on the back burner. In the new legislature, with a great turnover of membership, most of the novice legislators identify themselves as professionals rather than politicians, refuse party labels and abjure party affiliation. They will define their job as promoting Hong Kong’s prosperity, ensuring Hong Kong’s stability, improving people’s livelihood, accelerating Hong Kong’s economic integration with the Chinese mainland, and forging closer ties between Hong Kong residents and their mainland compatriots. Many of the new legislators abhor and disdain political struggle and are intent on repositioning the legislature as a problem-solver focusing on practical matters. At the same time, they will play the role of the overseer of the government seriously. Given their professional expertise and administrative experience, they should be able to monitor the government competently by seriously scrutinizing policy proposals from the government and evaluating the impact of public policies being implemented. Overall, the influx of professionals into the legislature would help to depoliticize it and in turn depoliticize society by refocusing Hong Kong residents’ attention on the serious but long-neglected social, economic and livelihood problems of Hong Kong.
The new Legislative Council will serve as a much better linkage between Hong Kong and the mainland, and between Hong Kong residents and the country. A substantial proportion of the new legislators are members of national organizations, have a lot of experience in working together with mainland officials or have investments and businesses on the mainland. They should be able to actively contribute to deepening and widening economic cooperation between Hong Kong and the mainland. As such, the new legislature should be able to provide advice and assistance to the government in formulating development strategies geared to propel Hong Kong’s participation in the country’s development.
All in all, the new legislature elected under the revamped electoral system is expected to foster effective and stable governance and to promote prosperity and stability in Hong Kong in the days ahead. This legislature is certainly the kind of legislature that the Basic Law drafters had in mind back in the 1980s.
The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.