The passage of the Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021 by the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on May 27 has ushered in a new era in the region’s democratic development and elections with three significant characteristics.
Firstly, the new electoral system being installed has replaced the unfavorable old system, which opened the election to all political groups without imposing any meaningful restriction in terms of political platforms.
As we all know, since China resumed its exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, the Legislative Council has been divided into two groups of electoral constituencies, functional and geographical constituencies. However, as elections were open to candidates of all political parties, instead of drumming up support from ordinary voters, the opposition camp — particularly its radical groups — resorted to all sorts of campaign tactics, especially social movements and radical political advocacy to build steadfast, organized voter blocs. In a bid to secure more LegCo seats, many candidates resorted to grandstanding and campaigned on divisive anti-China platforms, which advocated separatism and violence. Indeed, the “black revolution” gave rise to a new political bloc consisting mainly of confrontationist agitators, who seized overwhelming majority seats in the District Council elections of 2019. Even the traditional mainstays in the opposition camp — the Democratic Party and the Civic Party — were marginalized. Consequently, all opposition parties chose to jump on the radical bandwagon and rendered LegCo nearly impossible to function normally. Instead, it was turned into a freak show that all but paralyzed the HKSAR government’s normal operations. The stunt of choice for most, if not all, opposition legislators was unjustifiable, endless filibustering and violence.
Of course, the central authorities could never watch Hong Kong lose its stability and prosperity this way without doing anything. The National People’s Congress decided at its annual session in Beijing to improve Hong Kong’s electoral system, including the composition and formation of LegCo, through local legislation. The bill passed on May 27 was designed to serve exactly that purpose, replacing the previously unfettered electoral system with one of balanced, proportional representation. Under the new electoral arrangement, 40 seats will be returned by the broadly representative five sectors of the Election Committee. In addition, candidates can no longer freely run for the 30 seats in the functional constituencies; they are now required to be nominated by 10 to 20 electors of their respective constituency, together with the nominations by two to four members from each of the five sectors of the Election Committee. Such arrangements are premised on the principle of balanced representation. Since the nominations come from the broadly representative Election Committee, the unrestricted old system has been eliminated.
Secondly, this electoral reform will enhance the implementation of “one country, two systems”.
The “black revolution” in 2019 was nothing less than a secessionist movement. Had it succeeded, “one country, two systems” would have been compromised for good. The central authorities chose to focus on plugging loopholes in the LegCo election system instead of directly intervening in Hong Kong governance because they still have faith in the HKSAR’s system. The crux of the problem was the misconduct of some lawmakers who were determined to advance their own political agenda, including the advocacy of Hong Kong independence. The rightful solution to that is to prevent troublemakers from taking public office — particularly in LegCo — through loopholes in elections, so that only patriots will enter the legislature. It will ensure the executive-led governance model by eliminating politically motivated disruption in LegCo. Beijing is merely fixing the flaws in the LegCo election system without altering the original constitutional order of the HKSAR and its governance structure. Thus, the “one country, two systems” principle remains intact, and the electoral reform will not undermine but strengthen the HKSAR’s constitutional order.
Last but not the least, this electoral reform embodies the inviolability of the country’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.
In deciding to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system, the central authorities in Beijing laid emphasis on the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong” and those who challenge national sovereignty should have no place in the SAR’s governance establishment. It is indeed a necessary and timely reform.
Hong Kong was already an international metropolis with a diverse population ethnicity-wise and nationality-wise before its return to China. When China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, Beijing made sure the city maintained the ethnic diversity of its population. Article 24 of the Basic Law stipulates that persons not of Chinese nationality who have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for seven years shall be qualified to obtain permanent identity cards which state their right of abode. Similar to Chinese citizens who are permanent residents of the HKSAR, they have the right to vote and stand in LegCo elections according to relevant law, as well as the right to hold public office. This arrangement is quite unique and is rare around the world. The central authorities in Beijing have remained inclusive toward the ethnic-cultural diversity of Hong Kong society through the Basic Law and national policies concerning Hong Kong. However, Beijing has learned in the past 24 years the principle of “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” had been infiltrated by the separatists seeking control over Hong Kong, and the scenario of “anti-China radicals ruling Hong Kong” was looming. Beijing only seeks, through a duly and legitimate move, to strictly enforce “patriots governing Hong Kong”. Therefore, the decision to undertake electoral reform in Hong Kong, which flexibly neutralizes the threat to national sovereignty while retaining Hong Kong’s existing nationality plurality, is of great significance for the whole world.
Even with a sound electoral system, however, there is still no guarantee that the desired executive-led governance will automatically prevail in Hong Kong. Preventing obstruction by ill-advised lawmakers does not necessarily translate into better executive performance. That is why it is of the utmost importance that the HKSAR government does its best in fulfilling its constitutional duties.
The author is the former head of the department of government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This is an excerpted translation of his article published in Ta Kung Pao.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS