Henry Ho : Rule of Law or Rule of Poll?

Henry Ho :Three implications of NPCSC’s decision on LegCo tenure
August 15, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee decided that the current term of Legislative Council be extended for one year. It was widely appreciated as a decision which took into account both public health and political stability considerations, in particular that it imposed no pre-conditions for Councillors’ continuation of service.  Unexpectedly, this well-intentioned decision has further divided the opposition camp. The split within opposition camp (along differing level of violence and degree of support of independence) is not something new to the political landscape in Hong Kong, but the resort to opinion polls to resolve their differences is probably a new attempt.

 

As elected politicians, it was nothing wrong to seek the opinions of their voters in key decisions, including whether to continue an extra year of service to their constituents. After all, it is a Councilor’s free will to stay or not. Yet, the reliance of opinion poll results for a politician to decide his or her own fate represents a lack of commitment to serve, a pre-requisite of any politicians.

 

It needs no social science training to realise that telephone polls are highly prone to manipulation. The design of questionnaires, the method and size of sampling and even the sequence of questions could make a difference in the result of polls. The fact that the decision to conduct telephone polls was made after mainstream political parties (notably Democratic Party and Civic Party) expressed their intention to stay on, has fuelled suspicion of the real motivation of the poll.

 

The polling agency of course, is no less controversial than the poll itself. The agency, formerly known as Public Opinion Programme of HKU, has never been short of “innovative” ideas in conducting surveys which are supposed to be scientific. The invention of “net approval rate” of officials, derived from subtracting disapproval ratings from approval ones, is unheard of among academic community. Officials will easily get a “negative mark” when more respondents expressed dissatisfaction than those who expressed support, which is commonplace in governments around the world. Depending on level of “net approval ratings”, the agency will impose subjective, if not misleading adjectives towards individual officials, such as “mediocre”, “depressing” or even “disastrous”. The recent formation of “We Hong Kongers” opinion group includes more than 90% of opposition camp supporters, and many so-called surveys were conducted within this group of like-minded people. In fact, new “products” of this opinion factory emerge from time to time.

 

The key issue here is not the so-called “mandate” from the public, but two more fundamental conflicts. The first is whether the opposition politicians recognize the jurisdiction of the Central People’s Government. The power of NPCSC over Hong Kong matters stems from Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law and its decision has full legislative effect, which has been recognized by the Court of Final Appeal in many previous cases. Whether the opinion poll results endorse its decision is totally irrelevant. Many politicians in Hong Kong tend to stir up public sentiments or opinions  to challenge the constitutional order of the Special Administrative Region. Unfortunately all these attempts have proved to be total  failure in the past twenty years.

 

The second line of conflict is within the opposition camp. The younger and politically more separatist activists within the camp have made repeated attempts to seize power from the older politicians in the past years and the so-called “primary election” in early July was part of their game plan. The “young turks” have succeeded in “hijacking” the whole camp into supporting violent protests and even separatist demands.

 

The opinion poll was supposed to justify the incumbent opposition councillors to stay on for another year. Yet the embarrassing results have added more dissatisfaction and even division within the camp than before. The overall negative result (with only 36.8% supported their extension of service) and the under-majority support of 47.1% within their own supporters have demonstrated that people from all political orientations cherish principles and integrity of a politician, more than other ‘practical’ considerations.

 

Integrity is the basic requirement of any politicians in the world. Upholding Constitutional Order and Rule of law is the pre-requisite of any public officer including Legislative Councillor. Rule of poll would never be able to replace rule of law. LegCo session will be resumed in a week’s time. Whether our lawmakers would genuinely upload rule of law and live up to their oath taken in 2016 remains to be seen.

Original from China Daily (5 Oct 2020)

Henry Ho

Founder and Chairman, One Country Two Systems Youth Forum