I recently sounded out some of my friends to find out whether they intend to cast their ballots in the geographical constituencies of the Legislative Council election on Sunday. While most of them said they would, a few indicated otherwise.
I asked them why. They claimed that the new election system is a retrogressive step in democracy as it deprives certain people of the right to stand for the election through the vetting process, and so it is unfair. I reminded them of the gratuitous chaos and the resultant massive economic loss and social disruption created by some radical opposition members in the LegCo chambers who paralyzed vital legislative work in recent years. I pointed out that they were able to get elected because of the low bar in vetting suitable candidates for LegCo elections. Predictably, once they acquired legitimacy as a legislator, instead of engaging in meaningful debates and passing vital legislation, they proceeded to block all government proposals, effectively causing a government paralysis, societal polarization and economic standstill. They also actively instigated the 2019 violent social unrest. I asked them if this is what they want to see repeated, effectively dealing a coup de grace to Hong Kong.
The vulnerabilities of the old election system were cleverly exploited by many opposition politicians in the District Council election in 2019, who leveraged the chaotic political situation at the time and many idealistic young people’s passion to effect social and political change without realizing that they were being used by the opposition to do their bidding, even become their cannon fodder in their mindless opposition to all government initiatives. Thus, the opposition was able to secure 57 percent of the total votes, mainly through the support of thousands of young voters who were disillusioned with a government crippled by unscrupulous politicians, allowing them to garner over 95 percent of all the seats in District Councils. As a result, the opinion of over 40 percent of the more mature and responsible candidates, who had no effective response to the opposition’s game plan which relied heavily on fake news and negative social media, was shut out of District Councils. As a result, many incumbent District Council members who had been serving conscientiously in the districts for many years were evicted by radical opposition candidates who lacked the minimum education and relevant work experience expected of a District Council member. This serious flaw in the former election system inevitably led to political chaos, which marred most District Council meetings, and little progress was made to improve the lives of residents in their respective districts. I cannot imagine any right-thinking resident would want this state of affairs to continue when media coverage would only focus on the endless political circus staged by the anti-government members who kept playing to the gallery.
As Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said in his speech on Dec 6, “When we talk about ‘patriots administering Hong Kong’, we do not mean there should be ‘uniformity’ (in their political stance). What we emphasize is that those seeking ‘Hong Kong independence’ and anti-China elements who disrupt Hong Kong must not be allowed to enter the governance structure of the special administrative region.” The current vetting system is only intended to bar the anti-China and anti-HKSAR radical elements, and those who colluded with foreign power, from entering the race. The only entry qualification is that you must be a patriot. That is the minimum standard for all elections in the universe. As shown, only one candidate was barred from entering the LegCo race by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee because of the fact that he had worked part-time for a government institution, and not for his political stance. The current 153 candidates competing for 90 seats indeed represent a broader spectrum than any previous LegCo election. They include many grassroots people, such as bus drivers, electricians and tenants of public housing and subdivided units. This is unprecedented and a very healthy development, which gives voice to anybody who is a patriot!
Xia also emphasized in his speech that the new electoral system aims to fully balance the interests of various sectors and broadly represent their opinion, with a view to maximizing political inclusiveness, balanced participation and fair competition. The new electoral system will return elections to healthy competition and allow the emergence of capable and dedicated candidates to better serve the people and society as a whole.
I told my friends that there are at least three good reasons for them to vote. First, they should realize that voting is their civic responsibility. If you want democracy, you should exercise your duty to vote to make it happen. That is why Singapore has made it mandatory for all citizens to vote. A low turnout could suggest that Hong Kong residents are not committed to promoting democracy. One cannot expect a good outcome without making an effort. There are no free lunches in politics!
Second, they should know that Hong Kong is now at a crossroads of recovering from the ravages of the 2019 violent social unrest while we are still struggling with an evolving pandemic. In the meantime, we are also seeing signs of economic recovery, thanks to the central government’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) incorporating Hong Kong in national development. This confluence of events creates the ideal opportunity for us to tackle our many long-standing intractable problems of inadequate housing and medical services, wealth gap, better job opportunities, and the need to overhaul our education. In other words, there is no better time for competent, patriotic individuals to come forward to serve the public through a revamped LegCo. But this cannot happen without these worthy candidates receiving enough votes to enter LegCo.
Third, you may encounter problems in future and if you have a dedicated LegCo representative in your district, you can always approach him or her for advice and assistance, and therefore you should select someone you believe can serve you best.
On the third reason, the government should seriously consider providing additional resources to the legislators to enable them to open not just one regional office but sub-offices at the districts. For example, in the geographical constituency of the New Territories North East, this is a large region covering both Sha Tin and Tai Po. It would be helpful if the elected member can afford to open offices in both districts. Other elected members from the functional constituencies as well as those elected by the Election Committee should also be encouraged to open offices at their selected districts so that they can always have their feet on the ground to feel the pulse of the community they serve and to respond to the needs of their constituents more effectively. If the government could urgently announce such a commitment to allocate additional resources, it will generate more incentive for eligible voters to cast their ballots on election day.
Equally important, by coming out to vote, you convey your gratitude to our police for their courage in staring down the violent anarchists hellbent on destroying our community. It will also be a vote of support for the new electoral arrangement that will become a watershed in restoring harmony and security in Hong Kong. It will be a return to the key of our early successes — our “Lion Rock” spirit and can-do attitude! And we will show the younger generation what this is all about, thereby helping them along to their own successes!
The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.