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Published: 15:28, November 19, 2021 | Updated: 16:05, November 22, 2021
LegCo election will show HK democracy can outperform West's version
By Tony Kwok
Published:15:28, November 19, 2021 Updated:16:05, November 22, 2021 By Tony Kwok

Tony Kwok says voters must do their part to move city forward by electing the most qualified candidates

Many people have the illusion that Western-style democracy is the only acceptable form of idealized democracy. But as Chinese President Xi Jinping has pointed out in his recent speech at a central conference on work related to people’s congresses, “Democracy is not an ornament to be used for decoration; it is to be used to solve the problems that the people want to solve.” This was echoed by American billionaire Charlie Munger in an interview with CNN. While praising China for being more successful than the United States in handling the COVID-19 crisis, he said: “I don’t think we should assume that every other nation in the world, no matter what the problems are, should have our type of government. That’s pompous and self-centered!” Indeed, any suggestion that Western-style democracy is the only real and effective democracy is simply naive and narrow-minded.

Hong Kong did try the one-person-one-vote election, the main feature of Western democracies, for at least half of the seats in the Legislative Council for over 20 years after Hong Kong’s return to China. But the result was disastrous, as many of those elected turned out to be the most vigorous instigators of chaos and violence both inside and outside the LegCo chamber, as some of them engaged in meaningless filibustering, causing serious obstruction to the legislative process, while outside the chamber, they were in cahoots with some of the most violent and disruptive anti-social and anti-establishment elements. Through their numbers, they were able to paralyze the government’s legislative agenda, causing yearlong delays to major development projects and delays in the implementation of new legislation to improve the welfare of the grassroots people. They also played crucial roles in empowering the instigators of the 2019 violent social unrest, causing serious economic losses and major social disruption.

Once our new system is in place, and the patriotic and competent new members of the Legislative Council start dealing with problems in earnest, instead of engaging in petty politics as had been the case in recent years, I have no doubt that some of the most intractable problems that have dogged all administrations since the handover will be resolved, as we recapture Hong Kong’s famous “can-do” and harmonious spirit

The revamped election system will ensure a broader and more-democratic representation of the voices of the people in LegCo through not just the geographical constituency election, but also the functional constituency election as well as election by the prestigious 1,500-member Election Committee. Thus, in searching for the best democratic system that suits a country’s unique cultural and historical makeup, there is no such a thing as “one size fits all”. We must let the result speak for itself. It would therefore be premature for anyone to pass critical judgment on Hong Kong’s innovative system, as a Bloomberg opinion piece did recently, calling it an “authoritarian system”. Those habitual China-bashers who throughout the recent decades have predicted doom and gloom for China all have had eggs splattered on their faces when China went from strength to strength instead. It’s time that the West wake up to the reality that it does not hold exclusive knowledge on what’s the best way forward in both political and economic evolution. I advise them to turn their gaze to the East more and learn from its many successes.

Once our new system is in place, and the patriotic and competent new members of the Legislative Council start dealing with problems in earnest, instead of engaging in petty politics as had been the case in recent years, I have no doubt that some of the most intractable problems that have dogged all administrations since the handover will be resolved, as we recapture Hong Kong’s famous “can-do” and harmonious spirit.

In fact, we are already witnessing harbingers of success, as scores of high-quality individuals with significant achievements in various fields have decided to throw their hats in the ring to compete for LegCo seats to help resolve Hong Kong’s current multifaceted problems. They include many household names, such as Allan Zeman, the founder of Lan Kwai Fong; Mike Rowse, former director-general of Invest Hong Kong; Lai Tung-kwok, former secretary for security; Andrew Fung Wai-kwong, former government information coordinator; the Rev Peter Douglas Koon of the Anglican Church of Hong Kong; and top academics of various universities. Given the toxic political environment of the recent past, they chose not to waste their time then and be dragged down to fight in the gutter over petty politics with the so-called “pan-democrats” and various self-styled radical politicians who focused on playing to the galleries when the latter dominated the public discourse with the help of Apple Daily and other opposition media.

It is noteworthy that for the first time, there are no uncontested seats. There are altogether 153 hopefuls contesting for 90 seats, with 35 aspirants contesting for the 20 seats in geographical constituencies; 67 for the 30 seats in functional constituencies; and 51 for the 40 seats in the Election Committee constituency. In other words, every candidate has to demonstrate his/her worth before he/she can be elected. This effectively counters Western critics’ allegation that the election will be orchestrated by the central government with “no competition”. Also evidently, the candidates are from a much more diverse background, including successful entrepreneurs, professionals, moderates, reformists and even former “pro-democracy” candidates. On November 19, the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, chaired by the Chief Secretary, cleared all the nominations except one who was disqualified because he is working in a government department. This refuted the western media’s criticism that the committee was set up to disqualify all opposition candidates! We are thus assured of diverse voices in the new LegCo, and they will not comprise a “single voice” as alleged by the opposition and Western critics.

The unique feature of the upcoming election is that there are many new faces in the race, posing a challenge to voters before casting their ballots. To win voter support, the candidates are expected to publish their respective manifestos, ideally with particular reference to the five requirements for those seeking public office as set out by the director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, in his speech on July 16. They include the ability to implement the “one country, two systems” principle fully, the ability to solve conflicts and problems facing development, being capable of doing practical work for the people, being patriotic with charisma who can unite different sectors, and be responsible in their work. Their manifestos should explain how they would meet these objectives.

The government should ensure maximum publicity of all candidates’ background, views and manifestos. What is needed now is a really robust and healthy competition, glamorous election campaigns, posters and election booths all over the city, and plenty of well-managed constructive public debates on television prime-time slots. This is particularly important for the 40 seats to be elected by the Election Committee. The election should not be a closed-door affair, bearing in mind that the public is entitled to learn the backgrounds of these 51 candidates and to be satisfied that indeed the most suitable are eventually elected. I was therefore delighted to learn that the Hong Kong Coalition, backed by the popular social media Looop Media, is going to organize an open debate for the 51 candidates, giving every one of them the opportunity to explain the merits of their respective agendas and to challenge opponents in constructive debates. For once, we are going to see substantive political debates on improving all aspects of Hong Kong, especially the livelihood issues, instead of political theater, as was the norm when the “pan-democratic” politicians dominated public discourse. The event is open to all media, and I do hope it will be given wide coverage. As a government broadcaster, RTHK has an obligation to televise it live to help the voters gain a better understanding of the issues and where the candidates stand in respect to them. Equally important, it will eliminate once and for all any accusation of “black box” operations in the creation of the Election Committee constituency.

Undoubtedly, the now severely diminished opposition camp, presently licking its wounds but watching this unfamiliar development with alarm, will try its utmost to sabotage it, because once the new LegCo is in place and has proved its worth, it will spell the end of their malevolent dream of “destroying Hong Kong to damage China (laam chau)”. Already we have witnessed the opposition calling on the public to cast blank votes, a criminal offense under the amended Corrupt and Illegal Practice Ordinance. Even at this early stage, attacks on pro-establishment candidates’ election street booths have been reported. Along with the recent police discoveries of illegal firearms, ammunition and bombs, which might have been used to launch terrorist attacks on the polling day to deter voting, there is clearly no room for complacency for law enforcement. Police should also be on full alert for lone-wolf terrorists, as one has already succeeded in stabbing a police officer in the back, causing serious injury on July 1. A show of force by the police with more street patrols during this critical period will help boost voter confidence and ensure that this historic election is held smoothly and safely.

Another threat is that the opposition media will undoubtedly be watching all election activities like a hawk, hoping to expose any election irregularities, or even scandals. The Independent Commission Against Corruption should make every effort to educate all candidates to alert them not to commit any unintended self-inflicted wounds such as providing refreshments and token gifts to voters. The ICAC must also take strong enforcement action to combat conduct manipulating and sabotaging the election, as the opposition force is now trying to incite people not to vote or to cast blank votes. One thing for sure is that after the election, those recent years of opposition LegCo members paralyzing our legislative process through manufactured chaos, filibustering and mindless confrontational politics in the chamber will be gone for good. In their place will be constructive and intelligent debates aimed at helping the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government design and administer better policies to deal with our many so-far intractable issues on housing, healthcare, education, retirement protection, economic revival, further integration with the Chinese mainland, and exploiting the opportunities under the Belt and Road Initiative and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development. Unlike in the past, no pro-establishment LegCo member can take for granted their continued term of service by just being a patriot and showing up to cast their votes for the administration. They need to play a much more active role by initiating innovative ideas and engaging in meaningful discussions to ensure the best possible outcome with any legislative initiatives. Just watching the world go by will no longer be a safe option for them.

The next five years will be a litmus test for our unique style of democracy. It is thus incumbent on all eligible voters to help select the most qualified candidates by casting their ballots on Dec 19. We need the best people to help lead Hong Kong forward and prove to the world that our elected candidates can outperform the Western-style democracy, which in recent years, is already showing its gross inadequacies!

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space, a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, and a former deputy commissioner of the ICAC.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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