Henry Ho : Electoral reform heralds a new chapter of development

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Around the world, the Basic Law of Hong Kong is one of very few constitutional documents which stipulate the direction, conditions and final goal of the change of an electoral system. Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law specify that the ultimate aim of electoral reform is the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council members through universal suffrage. These provisions do not derogate from the power of the central authorities to determine the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s political system — including its electoral system, while reflecting the full respect of the central authorities toward the will of Hong Kong people.

In the 1980s, the drafters of the Basic Law could not have envisioned that more than two decades after the reunification, electoral reform and universal suffrage would still be subjects of major political debate in Hong Kong. In the past, each term of the HKSAR government spent tremendous effort on tackling issues relating to constitutional development and universal suffrage, which have been a focus of debate in any election, be it for the chief executive, Legislative Council members or District Council members. Unfortunately, economic issues, livelihood issues and deep-seated social problems were largely neglected. The SAR government typically spent around half of its five-year term of office on issues related to the preparation, consultation on and pitching of the reform proposals to the LegCo and the general public. The result, however, was increased polarization and politicization in society, bitter antagonism and mistrust among different groups of people in Hong Kong, and even advocacy of independence by the political radicals. Both the “Occupy Central” movement in 2014 and the social unrest in 2019 have come with such antagonism, albeit under different pretexts. Egged on and emboldened by external forces, the political radicals turned the anti-extradition movement into a violent “black revolution” that promotes Hong Kong independence.

The promulgation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong on June 30, 2020 has helped bring the political turbulence to an end. Nevertheless, if Hong Kong’s electoral system remains a subject of heated debate, further polarizing Hong Kong society, Hong Kong would not be able to focus its efforts on tackling deep-seated social problems, including a housing shortage, economic development, and livelihood issues.

Therefore, people should welcome the central authorities’ decision to initiate reform of the electoral system in Hong Kong, which is aimed at achieving the full and faithful implementation of “one country, two systems” by enforcing the precept of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. The core element of the proposed electoral reform is to redesign and further empower Hong Kong’s 1,200-strong Election Committee, which is tasked to select the chief executive in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Basic Law and decisions by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). In future, its membership will probably be expanded, incorporating representatives from more sectors of society. It will also take part in nominating all and electing a significant proportion of LegCo members. With an effective vetting system of candidates in place, future members of Hong Kong’s governance establishment, including LegCo members, will hopefully all be patriots. Balanced participation of different sectors will be ensured, and national security will be better safeguarded.

Hong Kong is an international city with a blend of Chinese and Western culture. Western-style democracy, featuring universal suffrage, has been touted by some as an “advanced model” and example for Hong Kong to emulate. In recent years, however, overseas experience has demonstrated that universal suffrage based on simple rule of the majority may not be conducive to consensus building in society or better governance. More often than not, disputes surrounding election procedures and results contributed to polarizing the society, triggering serious violence and riots. The storming of Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan 6 is but one of the many bad examples around the world.

It is high time we focused our efforts on better governance of Hong Kong, including the grooming of young political talents, as well as formulation of better policies to tackle the problems of land shortage, poverty and slow social upward mobility for young people. Once the governing power of Hong Kong is firmly controlled by patriots, many of these deep-seated social problems can be tackled more effectively.

Hong Kong is in all likelihood starting a new chapter in socioeconomic and political development after the decades-long debate on the electoral system is put to an end. The government of the HKSAR can more easily carry out its plans for economic development, including further economic integration with that of the Chinese mainland, which will help alleviate many acute problems the city faces. Hong Kong residents will be able to build a better Hong Kong and explore career and business opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and benefit from national development.

Original from: China Daily. (Mar 8, 2021)

The author is founder and chairman of One Country Two Systems Youth Forum.