A lot of people confuse Hong Kong’s political system with that of China’s, assuming that Hong Kong is just another reclusive, facebook-less, Chinese city. Indeed, we like to think of ourselves as otherwise, but at the current rate, Hong Kong might just well turn into just another undemocratic Chinese city. I’m referring to of course, the HK Government’s new plans to scrap Legislative Council by-elections and replace them with some odd system whereby the next-best-placed candidate in the original elections would automatically be offered empty seats, thereby doing away with the need to hold by-elections.
The Government hasn’t even attempted to think of an illogical excuse for this move, happily admitting that such a move is in response to the so called ‘de-facto referendum’ triggered in January last year after five Civic Party and League of Social Democrats lawmakers resigned. At the time, most other main political parties did not put up candidates, and all five were voted back into office. The turnout was just 17.1 per cent and the government said the by-election, which cost HK$126 million, had been unnecessary, thus warranting it’s newest proposal.
Certainly, a lot of people were opposed to the de facto referendum, evident in the crappy election turnout. That doesn’t however translate into acceptance of the government proposal as Stephen Lam, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau attempted to infer. I suppose it never occurred to him the possibility that the public was opposed to both the de factor referendum and the cancellation of the by-election system – which is exactly what the majority of people currently seem to believe. There was a lot of opposition to the de facto referendum, even from pro-democracy leaning individuals. It would seem to be a perfect storm for pro-government parties. Instead, the current government proposal throws all that out the window, drawing people’s memories and attention away and putting itself up as a target.
I’m not election expert and I’m of course in no position to comment on the legality or otherwise of the proposed changes. For that, check out the Hong Kong Bar Associations submission and press release. The China Daily also has a pretty good wonky, biased and rather incorrect response which I’ll link to for the purpose of completeness. The SCMP had a pretty comprehensive feature explaining why in practical terms the policy is rather problematic, I’ve posted it here.
But you don’t need to be a constitutional expert to figure it out. Just ask yourself – Do the election results in one year, and given a certain set of candidates, necessarily reflect their preferences months and years later, given a different climate and potentially more or better candidates? NO!
That said, I doubt that the pan-democrats attempts to turn this into a protest issue and drum up turnout for the annual July 1 protests will really work. Hong Kong may hate one decision/action, but that doesn’t mean we support anything to the contrary.