Published: 00:21, March 25, 2021 | Updated: 21:33, June 4, 2023
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Revamped elections crucial to HK's future
By Raymond Li

As a saying goes, “time to mend one’s fence before it is too late”. In light of months of anti-government protests with blood-stained violence and socioeconomic disruptions roiling Hong Kong in 2019 and the realistic national security threat exposed by the opposition’s “35-plus” scheme to veto all major government policies in the Legislative Council, the decision by the National People’s Congress to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system is timely to plug the loopholes in the city’s electoral system lest it risk being too late to stop the radical opposition’s plot to subvert the city’s established political system and hamper the full implementation of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.  

Central to the NPC’s decision are, among others, plans to further expand and empower the Election Committee, which elects the Chief Executive and is dominated by the pro-establishment camp. Its membership will be increased from 1,200 to 1,500, including new members from some “grassroots representatives” and members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. In addition, the Election Committee will wield new powers to nominate lawmakers and send some of its own representatives to the legislature, accounting for a significant proportion of its enlarged 90 seats in total. For vetting the candidacies of Election Committee members, the Chief Executive and LegCo members, a candidate qualification review committee of the HKSAR will be established. The above built-in mechanisms in the electoral system are considered part and parcel of ensuring “patriots administering HKSAR”. 

In rebuffing the suggestion that sweeping reform to the political system means the swansong of “one country, two systems”, one must first acknowledge that the NPC’s power to optimize Hong Kong’s electoral system with amendments to annexes 1 and 2 of the Basic Law is vested in Article 159 of the Basic Law, which provides that the NPC has power of amendment of the Basic Law. In addition, as the Basic Law was enacted by the NPC in accordance with the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the NPC logically enjoys the plenary power to amend the same. Such position is expressly supported by Article 62(2) and (14) of the Constitution, which provides that the NPC shall exercise power to oversee the enforcement of the Constitution and decide on the establishment of special administrative regions and the systems to be instituted there.

According to the Preamble of the Basic Law, it provides that “under the principle of “one country, two systems”, the socialist system and policies will not be practiced in Hong Kong”. Article 5 of the Basic Law further stipulates that “the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years”. It can be understood that the NPC resolution to revamp the local electoral system never, as opposition critics argue, undermines the principle of “one country, two systems”, as it does not concern any practice of the socialist system and policies in Hong Kong. In other words, the NPC decision on improving Hong Kong’s electoral system falls squarely within the constitutional ambit where the principle of “one country, two systems” is effectuated. 

It is hoped that following the electoral reform, the political tussles polarizing Hong Kong these few years will come to a halt, and that greater efforts and attention can be focused on ways to rejuvenate the economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic

More importantly, with a view to the unprecedented city-wide radical protests spearheaded by the opposition rampaging against the law and order of Hong Kong, together with endless, frivolous political theatrics from filibustering, hurling objects to even expressing the threat of paralyzing the legislature by stalling its ordinary business, blanket vetoing the SAR government’s Budget plans and hijacking socioeconomic interests for political ransom, Hong Kong’s harmony, prosperity and the principle of “one country, two systems” were imminently threatened. In a bid to bring order to simmering political chaos worsened particularly in recent years, the electoral overhaul to facilitate “patriots administering Hong Kong” is long overdue.

While critics slam the electoral overhaul as “decimating” the city’s opposition, such a parochial view is oversimplified, overlooking the underlying spirit of “one country, two systems” espoused by then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1984, who said patriots governing Hong Kong must undergird the “one country, two systems” principle after the city’s return to China. A patriot has been defined by Deng as “one who respects the Chinese nation, sincerely supports the motherland’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong, and wishes not to impair Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability”. As long as the opposition is willing to part ways with the radical few and play by Hong Kong law, the Basic Law, and serve in accordance with the “one country, two systems” principle, there is no cause for concern that their right to political participation in Hong Kong as enshrined in the Basic Law would be unreasonably denied. 

Even though finer details pertaining to the NPC decision are subject to further scrutiny by its Standing Committee and aren’t known yet, this institutional revamp to the electoral system is destined to enable the rational policy debate that was long hollowed out by fierce political antics staged by the opposition in the name of democracy. In face of a multitude of deep-rooted problems, in particular the housing shortage issue, besetting Hong Kong, it is hoped that following the electoral reform, the political tussles polarizing Hong Kong these few years will come to a halt, and that greater efforts and attention can be focused on ways to rejuvenate the economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and enhance the city’s governance for the well-being of its more than 7.5 million local population. 

The author is a Hong Kong practicing solicitor and chairman of Y Legalites.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not reflect those of the law firm where he works nor those of China Daily.