Opinion | LegCo elections: Voting confidently for a brighter future
By Grenville Cross
In the West, there are many who claim to regard democracy as sacrosanct. They sometimes claim that "the voice of the people is the voice of God", although, when push comes to shove, their commitment often wavers. When they do not like the outcome of a particular election, they are not above discrediting the result, even trying to overturn it.
After, for example, Donald Trump lost the presidential election in the US on Nov 3, 2020, he refused to accept that Joe Biden had beaten him, and denounced the vote as fraudulent. He whipped up his supporters into thinking that established democratic processes were corrupt, and they took to the streets demanding "stop the steal". After he condemned his vice-president, Mike Pence, for refusing to use his Senate position to invalidate the result, his supporters invaded the Congress on Jan 6, 2021, causing death, destruction and mayhem, and tried to block the formal count of the electoral votes of the 50 states and Washington, DC.
Again, in the United Kingdom, after the British people voted in record numbers on June 23, 2016, to leave the European Union, various people immediately set about trying to sabotage their decision. Although some of them, like the former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, had long preached the virtues of democracy, they swallowed their principles when it came to the Brexit vote, which they duly tried to subvert. Whereas Patten, for example, had been calling for greater democracy in Hong Kong, he had no qualms in using his position as an unelected member of the UK's House of Lords to eviscerate the British government's withdrawal legislation, required to implement the popular will. He even espoused a second referendum, in the hope of overturning the democratically expressed wishes of the electorate.
As a former EU commissioner for external relations, Patten would have known all about defying the will of the people. Although the EU proclaims its democratic credentials to all and sundry, and rejoices in lecturing other places it considers fall short, its commitment to democracy has only ever been skin-deep, as its record shows. Apart from using proxies like Patten to try to reverse Brexit, which it was afraid would also inspire others to break free, it has repeatedly disrespected popular votes with which it disagrees. After, for example, Denmark rejected the EU's Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and Ireland rejected both the Nice Treaty in 2001, and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, they were cajoled into voting again, and to come up with the decisions the EU wanted.
However, although China would have been well aware of how Western-style democratic models have, over the years, been systematically abused by their practitioners, it was nonetheless willing to try them in Hong Kong, to see if they worked. Had they succeeded, it is possible they could have been tried elsewhere in China, as part of the modernization process. Thus, although the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 said nothing about democracy or universal suffrage, when the Basic Law was promulgated in 1990, it made provision for both. It envisages the election of both the chief executive and the Legislative Council through democratic processes, with the "ultimate aim" being their election by means of "universal suffrage".
Although this was clearly a far-sighted move on China's part, this fascinating experiment was sabotaged from the inside by political pygmies. Although, as envisaged by the Basic Law, proposals were brought forward in 2014 to enable the chief executive to be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, they were torpedoed in 2015 by myopic legislators, incapable of rising to the call of history. In consequence, a great opportunity for democratic progress was squandered, and the malaise extended further.
By 2012, the electoral system for the Legislative Council had been gradually expanded to the point whereby 35 of the legislators, or half the total, were elected by popular votes in the geographical constituencies, and further progress seemed possible. As things unfolded, however, it gradually became clear that the body politic had been infiltrated by saboteurs, intent on wrecking the city's governance from within. Some legislators openly associated themselves with the street chaos which gripped the city for 79 days in 2014, even though its perpetrators sought, through public disruption, to coerce both the local and central governments.
After the Legislative Council election of 2016, things deteriorated badly, and it was apparent that many of the opposition legislators had no interest in providing sound government for the city, let alone advancing people's livelihoods. Instead, they used their positions to promote their anti-China agendas, to paralyze the work of the council, and, in the case of the Civic Party, to seek measures hostile to the city and its officials from foreign powers. Some not only associated themselves with the depredations of the protest movement and its armed wing in 2019, but also engaged in violence themselves, both on the streets and in the chamber. It soon became apparent that the city's short-lived experiment with Western-style democracy had failed, and a change of direction was required. A new democratic model was, therefore, imperative, unless, of course, the whole idea was to be scrapped altogether. It had, moreover, to be one that not only provided responsible governance, but also ensured the survival of the "one country, two systems" governing policy for Hong Kong.
As a result, therefore, of the "Decision on Improving the Electoral System of the HKSAR", which the National People's Congress took on March 11, the electoral system was overhauled, and this has been achieved through subsequent amendments to Annexes I and II of the Basic Law. In taking the Decision, the NPC was keenly aware that the electoral system must uphold the "one country, two systems" policy, and that this, in turn, hinged on the full implementation of the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong", as envisaged by the late paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, in 1984. As a result, anybody wishing to stand for election for the 90 seats in the expanded Legislative Council will have to genuinely commit themselves to uphold the Basic Law and to be loyal to the city and the country. There will, therefore, no longer be any place for political wreckers or agents of foreign powers, which is clearly a great relief for everybody who wants the city to be run properly.
On Dec 19, there will be 153 hopefuls, coming from all walks of life, contesting the 90 seats, of which 40 are from the Election Committee constituency, 30 are functional and 20 are geographical, and whoever is elected can be trusted to put Hong Kong and national interests first. All of them, unlike many of their predecessors, can be relied upon to promote the "one country, two systems" policy, and to work to make Hong Kong a better place. Once the Legislative Council is elected, the government will be able to work with it to resolve long-standing problems concerning social, livelihood and economic matters, and do so in a constructive way that promotes the public good and avoids mindless politicking. A political environment that prioritizes good governance and social stability will also provide investors with the positive business climate they need, and will enable them to benefit fully from the National 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development.
If, as everybody hopes, the new-look legislature is dedicated, effective and loyal, and capable of seeing the wider picture, it will help to restore its credibility, and put to bed its past shame. Although the city's fledgling democracy was systematically abused by individuals who wanted to harm China and help its antagonists, they have now been consigned to the dustbin of history. Of course, yesterday's men are still around, often lurking in foreign capitals, and criminal fugitives like Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Ted Hui Chi-fung, backed up by the likes of The Wall Street Journal, are now trying to harm the city from afar by undermining its elections. Even though it is illegal, they are urging people not to vote or else spoil their ballots, and the ICAC is now on their trail. However, the siren voices of convicted felons must not only be disregarded, but treated with the contempt reserved for those who sell out their home place and dance to foreign tunes.
The central authorities, after all, have kept faith with Hong Kong, and provided it with a fresh opportunity, which the electorate must now seize with both hands. Once this happens, the prospect of universal suffrage being realized for the city's elections in due course will be greatly enhanced, as also will the chances of the "one country, two systems" policy being continued after its expiry in 2047. Quite simply, the world is now Hong Kong's oyster, and people should vote confidently for a brighter future when they cast their ballots on Dec 19.
(Source: China Daily)
The author is a senior counsel and professor of law, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
Read more articles by Grenville Cross: