Success of LegCo election will be decided by new lawmakers’ performance

The uneventful and orderly completion of the Legislative Council election on Dec 19 must prove to be a bitter disappointment to the Western media and certain Western powers, as well as their now-defanged proxies in Hong Kong and overseas. 

They had not only wished it the worst but actively lobbied voters to cast blank votes or boycott it altogether. They were also forced to put paid to any devious schemes to disrupt the election process, thanks to a strong police presence and the fact that their former chief rabble-rousers were either behind bars or have fled overseas to escape punishment, thanks to the National Security Law for Hong Kong hanging over their heads!

In their desperate attempt to carp about the election, they could only point at the relatively low turnout rate of 30.2 percent for the Geographical Constituency. But is it really that bad? Not if you take into consideration that this is the inaugural LegCo election under a new format, and people tend to be skeptical and take a wait-and-see attitude under the circumstances. It’s worth looking back to 1995, when the British colonial government conducted its last LegCo election, in its 11th-hour bid to introduce democracy to round up 150 years of its authoritarian rule before Hong Kong’s return to China. It attracted a turnout rate of 35.8 percent. Bear in mind that the electoral base has since increased drastically from 3 million in the colonial era to 4.47 million today because of the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 by the HKSAR government. Consequently, the turnout rate of around 30 percent, representing a total of 1.35 million voters, should be regarded as within the normal range, according to academics on political studies. Indeed, this turnout rate is much higher than the recent New York mayoral election on Nov 2, which scored a mere 24 percent!

The central government’s overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system was completely vindicated by the total absence of any irregularities that beset previous elections

On the other hand, the voter turnout rate for the Election Committee Constituency was an impressive 98.48 percent. Among 18 out of 30 functional constituencies, their turnout rates exceeded 70 percent, with seven of them registering over 90 percent. Hence it can be seen that the turnout rates of voters, other than those from the grassroots in the Geographical Constituency, are quite high in various professional subsectors. It is also worth noting that the candidates from the traditional pro-establishment camp in the Geographical Constituency have obtained a total of 1.23 million votes, which is 370,000 more than in the last LegCo election in 2016. That means more Hong Kong people, probably including those who previously supported the opposition camp, have come forward in this election to support the traditional pro-establishment candidates.

We should also bear in mind the hostile propaganda campaign launched by the Western media before the election, including critical commentaries from influential papers such as The Wall Street Journal, which ran an editorial urging “boycotts and blank ballots are one of the last ways for Hong Kongers to express their political views”, as well as widespread appeals on social media by at least seven self-exiled opposition activists now seeking refuge overseas as fugitives on the run for riot offenses. They, too, called for a public boycott by casting blank votes. There is little doubt that they have the financial backing of foreign forces who wanted to destabilize Hong Kong and blacken China’s good name. Not surprisingly, in the lead-up to the election, caches of firearms, ammunition and bomb-making materials were uncovered by the police. They were believed to be part of a plot to create panic and confusion to disrupt the revamped election and plunge the city back into the chaos and mayhem of the 2019 anarchy. Thus, it is to the credit of 1.35 million geographical constituency voters who came forward to cast their ballot as a show of support for the government.

As expected, the Five Eyes alliance spared no time in issuing a statement of condemnation over the outcome of the LegCo elections, followed by similar condemnations by the G7 and the European Union. Evidently, they have chosen to ignore the white paper released by the central government shortly after the election, titled “Hong Kong Democratic Progress Under the Framework of One Country, Two Systems”, which was issued precisely to pre-empt and reject all these predictable groundless accusations and slander, and to help people better understand the true nature of the development of Hong Kong’s democracy. The paper reminds people that under British colonial rule, there was no democracy in Hong Kong, despite popular demand for it. It is the central authorities that have finally institutionalized it. By design, it dovetails with the Basic Law, and in accordance with the principle of “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong” with a high degree of autonomy. A salient feature of this arrangement is that all candidates are vetted for their patriotism to ensure no repeat of the untold systemic damage caused by the subversive elements who wriggled their way into governance institutions under the previous vulnerable electoral system. These anti-China elements were able to leverage their elected positions in the Legislative Council and District Councils, under the pretext of championing democracy, to obstruct all government initiatives to improve the lives of the people. Their devious plot calls for a “color revolution” to be staged as their stepping stone to seizing control of the SAR government before inciting the rest of China.

Nevertheless, Beijing has never wavered in its commitment or faltered in its efforts to support the development of democracy in a manner that maintains Hong Kong’s unique characteristic. The National Security Law for Hong Kong was first introduced to incapacitate the most virulent anti-China elements, while the revamped electoral reform was to ensure that only genuine patriots would be allowed to hold public office and help develop democracy with an eye on Hong Kong’s unique characteristics. The paper rightly warned Hong Kong reisdents against blindly emulating the chaotic democracy as practiced by a number of leading Western countries, and that they should abide by the “one country, two systems” principle under the guidance of the Central People’s Government.

The central government’s overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system was completely vindicated by the total absence of any irregularities that beset previous elections, which were marred by foreign interference and illegal funding of candidates. In the last LegCo election, many opposition candidates were found to have received political donations from Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the founder of Apple Daily, who reportedly serves as a conduit for payments from the US government. That is why the Washington establishment is so upset that despite its vigorous efforts to support its anti-China proxies and the political microphone railing against both the central and Hong Kong SAR governments, all its investments turned to naught because it was defeated by the timely introduction of the National Security Law and the revamped election system!

While the highest voter turnout in Hong Kong at 71 percent was recorded at the District Council election in 2019 amid the violent social unrest, was it a successful election? The reality is that the election was marred by violence and harassment, including physical attacks and verbal abuse of the traditional pro-establishment candidates, vandalization of their election campaign facilities, criminal damage, and even arson of pro-establishment district councilors’ ward offices and election campaign booths. Young radicals deliberately queued up at election voting stations repeatedly to deter elderly voters from casting their ballots. In the end, those elected radical candidates have turned the District Councils into a hotbed of puerile political antics and obstructionism against any attempt at constructive official business. It was a truly sad spectacle to see these elected anarchists rule the District Councils. It also demonstrates that a plurality of votes would not assure a good result for elections as it can be manipulated, or sabotaged, in any number of ways. The failure of the American electoral system was vividly demonstrated in the election of Donald Trump, who had caused the country untold damage while in office through his authoritarian ways, and even after he left office!

As a result of the patriotic vetting, which incentivizes high-quality professionals to grab the opportunity to compete for meaningful public service, a significant number of the successful candidates who possess top qualifications, including PhDs in various fields, and even a university associate vice-president, were voted in. I have no doubt that the combination of their expertise and patriotic fervor will prove to be a winning combination for the coming high-performing Legislative Council. They will be up to the task of responsibly monitoring and collaborating with the government. Instead of filibustering like the former radical legislators of old, they will no doubt give creative helpful inputs to the government and engage in constructive debates with their peers. I have full confidence in the early breakthroughs that we should see — in successfully tackling our intractable problems of housing shortage, livelihood issues, wealth gap, healthcare and economic revival.

Unlike in the past, when polarized political debates between the pro-establishment and opposition lawmakers were common, those who just act as rubber stamps to support all government motions would not survive the next election when only candidates who have a track record of proposing useful initiatives can expect to be returned to office.

The 40 members elected by the Election Committee Constituency should play a decisive balancing role between the competing interests of the functional and geographical constituencies, as they are regarded as the creme de la creme of society and the independent-minded. The soon-to-be-appointed chief convener of the Election Committee should play a major role in monitoring the performance of the lawmakers and take actions, if necessary, to ensure their accountability.

Looking forward, the performance of those newly elected into LegCo is the best litmus test of the new LegCo electoral arrangement. Furthermore, if they live up to expectations, there is no doubt it will bring many more electors to the voting booths in the next LegCo election.

Two final thoughts: First, it is both touching and encouraging to see some Hong Kong residents now staying on the mainland traveling long distances to the boundary control checkpoints just to cast a vote in the election. Some of them were from distant places such as the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. The election law should be amended to enable Hong Kong residents eligible to vote but physically outside Hong Kong to cast their ballots by mail or electronically.

Second, the Democratic Party, one of the oldest and most influential political parties in Hong Kong, should review its decision to boycott the election. As a result, it had forfeited its right to participate in constructive legislative debates with the new lawmakers. I sincerely hope that the party will return to active political engagement in serving Hong Kong, as some of its members have done in the past, by participating in the next election.

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao studies. He was previously a deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.