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Published: 23:44, December 06, 2021 | Updated: 09:41, December 07, 2021
Candidacy vetting should be seen as part of 'defensive democracy’
By Kacee Ting Wong
Published:23:44, December 06, 2021 Updated:09:41, December 07, 2021 By Kacee Ting Wong

Critics are using biased narratives to discredit Hong Kong’s upcoming Legislative Council election. They claim the absence of sufficient “pan-democrats” in the contender list is a strong stimulant that enables “legitimacy deflation” to grow from a fluffy cumulus cloud on the remote horizon to a threatening nimbus cloud looming above Hong Kong. They also criticize the patriot-vetting process that requires all hopefuls to get an endorsement from at least 10 members of the Election Committee and go through scrutiny by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee. Besides, the critics are “worried” that the controlled and restrictive LegCo election will shift the accountability system from the rock to the sand. But do these narratives hold up?

First, I will try to draw inspiration from the theory of “defensive democracy” to examine whether the incorporation of vetting mechanisms into the LegCo election is reasonable and necessary for the protection of the newly built but fragile democratic institutions in Hong Kong. Apart from the need to protect these democratic institutions, the need to prevent the subversives, particularly the separatists, from sneaking into LegCo and subsequently endangering national security and frustrating the developmental needs of China is also a matter of pressing concern.

According to the proponents of “defensive democracy”, major conflicts may emerge in a democratic society between compliance with democratic values, particularly freedom of association and the right to be elected, and the need to take drastic measures to prevent disruptors from abusing these democratic principles under exceptional circumstances. One example of such an abuse is the Nazi Party’s takeover by democratic means of the Weimar Republic in 1933, which caused the complete destruction of German democracy. To prevent the abusers from disrupting its core democratic values, Israel took pre-emptive actions to ban the radical Kach Party from standing in the 1992 election.

Even the United States is considered a country that has frequently used “defensive democracy” to safeguard national security and protect its democratic institutions. Following the Sept 11, 2001, attack, the Patriot Act was enacted, and it attracted the attention of Tom Bingham. In his book The Rule of Law, he criticizes the immigration provisions of the act which render noncitizens liable to deportation for their association with disfavored organizations. The Patriot Act also authorizes the US government to use classified information, presented behind closed doors, to support the freezing of assets of alleged terrorist organizations and Muslim charities. The US comes in for further scrutiny in respect of its denial of due process to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

In view of the disruption caused by the “pan-democrats” and the anti-China separatists who had entered the political establishment of Hong Kong through LegCo elections in the past few years, and in view of the violent acts brought about by the black-clad rioters in 2019, the central authorities in Beijing had no alternative but to take drastic measures to overhaul the electoral system of Hong Kong to protect the democratic institutions in the region. Seen through the lens of the proponents of “defensive democracy”, the central authorities should impose reasonable and necessary restrictions on the electoral system so as to ensure the implementation of the principle of “one country, two systems” gets back on track. According to Tian Feilong, an associate professor at Beijing’s Beihang University, the new democratic order of “patriots administering Hong Kong” conforms to the principle of “one country, two systems” and contributes to the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

The painful lesson of the 2019 riots reminds us that Hong Kong has a constitutional obligation to safeguard national security. Before the outbreak of the riots, nobody appeared to have realized, much less recognized, that there were disruptive and destabilizing threats posed by the anti-China disruptors in Hong Kong. To add fuel to the fire of disruption, the opposition activists made concerted plans to further destabilize Hong Kong by winning over half of the seats in the LegCo election scheduled for September 2020. Some even tried to invite foreign intervention to destabilize Hong Kong.

Against the backdrop of new complexities in international relations and giving consideration to the developmental interests of China, Beijing can no longer tolerate the destabilizing activities of anti-China disruptors in the new Legislative Council. It should not be taken uncritically for granted that a Western-style competitive election is the be-all and end-all. Critics should take special security circumstances into consideration and look beyond the superficial indispensability of a competitive election; they should also critically examine whether the electoral reform in the HKSAR can cushion China from external threats. Safeguarding national security remains the top priority of Hong Kong.

It is worthy of serious pondering that “pan-democratic” LegCo members in the past two decades tended to ignore the developmental needs of China. A lot of them were deeply skeptical about further integration between Hong Kong and the mainland. The dispute over co-location arrangements is a good example to support this notion. Furthermore, the overall performance of these LegCo members in solving local livelihood issues had been anything but satisfactory. There is no guarantee that “pan-democratic” victors at a competitive election will have the ability to take care of the national developmental needs and socioeconomic needs of residents. In fact, most of the “pan-democratic” LegCo members were unfamiliar with the developmental needs and strategies of China.

At least nine senior executives from companies with Chinese mainland backgrounds have signed up for the Dec 19 poll. One of them is Simon Hoey Lee, who is an expert in the Basic Law. He is currently chief strategy officer for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area at the China Resources Group. Two mainland immigrants (gangpiao) also signed up for the LegCo poll. These hopefuls are in a better position to understand the developmental needs of the country and are capable of promoting cross-border development.

After the vetting process, only one of the 154 aspirants was disqualified on grounds unrelated to national security. Although the electoral overhaul is not made in the image of a Western competitive model, the self-restraint exercised by the CERC helps counter the perception that candidates are subject to heavy political screening. The assertion made by Chief Secretary for Administration John Lee ka-chiu that the HKSAR government has no intention of fostering political uniformity in the legislature seems to correspond to the reality. Wong Songmiao, secretary-general of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR, noted that the new electoral system is fair and the wide range of voices vying for LegCo seats demonstrate Beijing’s commitment to maintaining competition in the electoral exercise. For the first time in history, Hong Kong has no uncontested seat in the forthcoming LegCo election.

Finally, the patriotic backgrounds of the new legislative councilors, together with an improvement in the relations between the executive and legislative branches, may allow more legislative councilors with distinguished professional achievements to share the highest policymaking power in the Executive Council. This kind of participation is similar to the “consensus model” adopted by the coalition governments in Switzerland and Belgium. Arend Lijphart, who is an expert in consociational democracy, observes that different political parties in these two European countries try their best to build a consensus and formulate government policies, which often correspond to the interests and will of the people. The adoption of the consensus model may promote good governance in Hong Kong and foster synergy in the policymaking process.

The author is a barrister and a member of Chinese Academic Networks and co-founder of Together We Can. 

Please click here to see the list of 2021 LegCo election candidates.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.  


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