According to the 2023 District Council (DC) Election arrangement, 88 seats will be directly elected by more than 4.33 million voters on Dec 10.
Although the reformed DCs’ directly elected seats have been reduced, it has not dented the enthusiasm of the hopefuls and voters.
This suggests Hong Kong society generally agrees with the DC reform package adopted earlier this year, particularly the restoration of the DCs’ intended function of serving and consulting local communities.
This year’s DC election will be conducted in a more-agreeable social environment than the previous one. With the political zealots mostly being kept at bay, the atmosphere of terror that gripped Hong Kong society before the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL) has vanished.
Logic and reason have returned to the city, allowing voters to cast their ballots wisely. This, however, does not imply that the upcoming election is without hidden risks. There are still aspects that deserve special attention in terms of eligibility and suitability of candidates.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has repeatedly emphasized the three tenets governing the DC reform — prioritizing national security, upholding “patriots administering Hong Kong”, and enhancing executive-led governance.
As the first two tenets entail love for the country and Hong Kong, it is imperative that the relevant mechanisms be strictly enforced to ensure that only patriots join the race. That patriotism is prescribed as the basic requirement for DC candidates can be explained from the following perspectives.
First, Hong Kong is a special administrative region directly under the central government; “one country” and “two systems” are integral parts of Hong Kong’s governance system. People who do not embrace this constitutional status of Hong Kong will be prone to overemphasizing the differences between the “two systems” and overlooking the “one country” factor; they are unlikely to be genuine patriots, and could harm Hong Kong if they hold public offices. Therefore, it is imperative for candidates to faithfully uphold Hong Kong’s constitutional status, which is a key criterion of patriotism under the text of Hong Kong.
Second, the greatest lesson of the 2019 riots is to realize that national education was absent in Hong Kong even after the 1997 reunification, which is the root cause of a weak sense of national identity among many Hong Kong residents. Worse, the anti-China agitators equated “patriotism” with “betraying Hong Kong”, and suggested that one who loves Hong Kong must resist Beijing.
Hong Kong has been focusing on rooting out the causes of chaos and getting back on track. Any candidate still fond of chanting political slogans and promoting an unrealistic agenda would only hinder these efforts and harm residents’ well-being. Hence, an eligible candidate must be down-to-earth
Third, the US’ and the West’s hostility toward Hong Kong has been growing since the NSL came into effect. Although the reformed DCs will return to their nonpolitical function, district councilors still play a vital role in district administration and public affairs, exerting significant influence on residents. If they do not meet the basic requirement of patriotism, they could be hidden risks for governance.
Nomination of candidates for the DC elections is to start on Oct 17. Nominators should perform their duties faithfully by upholding the three tenets mentioned above and the election guidelines, and screening out those “pseudo-patriots”. Voters should also keep themselves informed about whom they are not supposed to vote for.
According to Article 97 of the Basic Law, district organizations that are not organs of political power may be established in the HKSAR, to be consulted by the government on district administration and other affairs, or to be responsible for providing services in such fields as culture, recreation and environmental sanitation.
In the past few years, Hong Kong’s social landscape was so politicized that the DCs also got heavily involved in politicking, departing from their original nonpolitical function, particularly during the turmoil in 2019-20, when the anti-China subversives took control of most DCs by exploiting the loopholes in the election system, and turned them into platforms for promoting separatism and violence, serving the ultimate purpose of subverting the HKSAR government and resisting the central government’s jurisdiction over Hong Kong.
The DC reform serves the purpose of restoring DCs’ original role — nonpolitical organs. Indeed, DCs are not supposed to possess any decision-making and supervisory powers as legislatures do; they are merely district organizations that assist the government to reach out to residents, with an intended function of serving and consulting the local communities.
Therefore, district councilors’ alignment and cooperation with the government is a crucial criterion for assessing their ability and effectiveness in performing duty. Voters should, therefore, focus on the following aspects when casting their votes.
First, the right candidate should approve the government’s governance philosophy. With an emphasis on “results-oriented” governance, the current administration has pledged to proactively promote economic development and improve people’s livelihoods.
Candidates who do not embrace this governance philosophy will find themselves struggling to collaborate with the government, let alone to produce results in their work, if they make it to a DC; those who do will be self-motivated to work together with the administration and bring about much greater efficiency in their work.
Second, candidates should be familiar with the government’s policy agenda. Their level of understanding of and familiarity with the government’s policy agenda will determine whether the successful candidates can help enhance residents’ well-being.
Third, candidates should be assessed on their ability to communicate with government bureaus, which is vital for district councilors as they are tasked with conveying public opinions to government officials on various community issues.
Hong Kong has been focusing on rooting out the causes of chaos and getting back on track. Any candidate still fond of chanting political slogans and promoting an unrealistic agenda would only hinder these efforts and harm residents’ well-being. Hence, an eligible candidate must be down-to-earth.
Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Work Office under the Communist Party of China Central Committee, attaches great importance to Hong Kong’s district administration. During his inspection tour in Hong Kong in April, he toured the local community and listened to residents’ views on governance. It’s safe to assert both the central and HKSAR governments expect the new DCs to contribute to Hong Kong’s better governance.
The author is vice-chairman of the Committee on Liaison with Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS