After days of meetings, the Legislative Council (Legco) concluded scrutiny of the bulky bill on electoral changes, paving the way for three elections in September, December and March 2022. These changes are based on decisions made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in March this year.
Responding to the anti-government protests in 2019 caused by the Extradition Bill, a problem which Chief Executive Carrie Lam confessed she could not resolve, Beijing imposed the draconian National Security Law (NSL) on the city last June and the electoral overhaul in March this year. The harsh measures are aimed at wiping out dissenting voices and threatening personal safety, signalling the end of “one country, two systems.”
Although Beijing decreed that Hong Kong should be administered by patriots, it also said different views can be expressed. Pro-Beijing characters said the Democratic Party (DP) should take part in the restructured Legco elections to be held in December. Some even offered to nominate DP members as candidates.
Such nomination is indispensable under the new system. Candidates must get two to four nominations from members of each sector of the five sectors of the 1,500-member Election Committee (EC). Members of the EC will be selected on September 19 and almost all of them will be from the pro-Beijing camp.
If candidates succeed in getting the required nominations, they will be scrutinized by a vetting committee to determine whether they are true patriots and whether they threaten national security. If they pass the test, they will be permitted to stand for election. Under the revamped system, the size of Legco will be enlarged from 70 to 90 members. But the number of directly elected members will be reduced from 35 to 20.
On being elected, Legco members will be continuously vetted to ensure they act properly at all times. If not, they could be disqualified, or arrested and charged. Such a system is radically different from what I have experienced, having stood and won in seven Legco elections since 1991. Thus I described the current exercise as humiliating and demeaning.
Some pro-Beijing politicians, including Carrie Lam, criticized my remarks, saying people who stand for election should be ready to withstand humiliation. The pro-Beijing camp is eager for Democrats to take part because our candidates might give the election a veneer of credibility, showing it is not a game entirely tailor made for the pro-Beijing camp.
However many people have seen through the ploy and suggest voters should not bother to vote. The authorities are worried there could be a low voter turnout so they made it a criminal offence punishable by three-year jail sentence for anyone to incite people not to vote or to cast a blank vote, although both acts are perfectly legal.
In considering whether the DP or other pro-democracy party or independent activists should take part, one should assess whether the election is free and fair, whereby there are no unreasonable limitations, giving voters a genuine choice.
I have taken part in seven Legco direct elections since 1991 and on those occasions, not all the seats were returned by universal suffrage. At each election, I managed to get 100 nominations from voters of my constituency. So did many of my opponents. There were no unreasonable limitations, and the voters had genuine choice of candidates.
In the December election, this will not be so. Candidates have to go to each of the five sectors of the EC to ask for nominations. Some candidates may be barred from standing because they are deemed unpatriotic or even a threat to national security. If these people are unlucky, they could be arrested and charged. It may tarnish their reputation and could adversely impact on their career. Under such circumstances, why should they bother?
The DP is currently consulting its members. An Extraordinary General Meeting will be held for members to vote on whether the party should take part in the election or not, and if so, which candidates to endorse. In the process, we will listen carefully to the voices of the people.
Some people said if the DP does not take part in the election, it will have no future. Some people point to the Singapore experience in which the Socialist Front boycotted the General Election in 1968 and allowed the People’s Action Party to win all 51 seats in Parliament. It returned to contest the 1972 General Election and failed to win any seat in that and subsequent elections.
Hong Kong is not Singapore and many people in this city aspire to free and fair elections. If the DP insists on taking part in an election which is neither free nor fair, it will turn many fair-minded people against us. There is no doubt the road ahead is difficult and dangerous.
At present, the DP is busy helping members who have been locked up indefinitely on the vague pretext of breaching the NSL. Such unfair and unjust treatment is weighing heavily on their families and friends and on many DP members. Many trials will take place in the coming weeks and months and more DP members could be sentenced to lengthy imprisonment. Given such ominous outlook, some members are in no mood to discuss election matters.
Under the current circumstances, the DP must stand up to fight for what we have always believed in: that the central government must keep the promises in the Sino British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law – respect the Hong Kong people’s human rights, freedoms, personal safety and the rule of law, and let the city develop democratic government. When times are hard, it is all the more important that the DP should find the courage to adhere to our ideals and principles.
(Emily Lau, Chairperson, International Affairs Committee of the Democratic Party)
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