Improved electoral system = tailor-made perks|Johnny Lau Yui-siu

Published (HKT): 2021.04.18 09:48

The Hong Kong government claimed the need to “improve the electoral system”, and proposed a series of changes. Upon closer inspection, they look like further manifestations of a “tight and total grip of Hong Kong’s governance”, as well as enhanced control of Hong Kong’s legislature. This has not only further diminished the shadow of “two countries”, but even the traces of political reform that once surfaced after the Handover.

Let’s get into the specific measures. There are three main methods adopted by the Hong Kong government right now:

1) Turn individual votes into group votes, and move the votes that belonged to the grassroots to the management. The reason is simple. Managing groups are much simpler than managing individuals, and in consideration of various actual situations and interests, managements are likely to lean towards the official stance and thoughts; placing the ballots in their hands is much easier to gain control.

2) A firm grip on the backgrounds of groups for “entrance”. Those who are obedient – OK; otherwise you get KO (kicked off). Moreover, look at how the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and the Hong Kong Journalists Association, both rather representative, were booted and replaced by groups and organizations that are both recognized by the government as well as recognize the government, the goal to take over, wedge in, and replace is just too obvious. The Hong Kong government would much rather break its own standards set in the past, such as requiring organizations to have at least 3 years of establishment to be recognized, yet today, there are at least 12 organizations that have been established for fewer than three years. Among which, certain organizations were only established this year in March, but the government has them listed regardless. No wonder the saying “organizations help ruling Hong Kong (in accordance with instructions)” has been circulating.

This is also a tactic of concealment here. After re-identification by voting groups, it seems on the surface that certain sectors will not be monopolized by business conglomerates, which prevents the indirect influence of the election results of functional constituencies. If this was the only purpose and outcome, then that’s not that bad; however, after breaking some monopolies, what follows will be a larger kind of monopoly that is the combination of public power and voting rights; the latter monopoly is more dangerous than the former one, and is even further away from the government’s claim of “gradual and orderly progress”.

3) Through re-allocation and “improvement”, the voters’ rights that were gradually liberalized are once again narrowed. Take the social welfare sector for example, in the original system, there were 60 seats that were elected by registered social workers and social welfare organizations through individual and group votes; however, under the new system, the social welfare sector has been reduced to 30 seats, of which 15 were ex-officio members, and the other 15 are to be elected through qualified group votes. The voter base has been significantly narrowed from the original 13,000 to about 200 groups.

Moreover, the process of re-allocation looks more like randomization. For example, among the ex-officio committees, about 80% are not licensed social workers. Although they can be considered to have been “involved in social work through other means”, it is still a bit of a stretch. Moreover, most of them are management, which, to reference my first point, do they really represent the grassroots and frontline workers?

The abolition of super District Council seats is also a measure to drastically reduce the base of voters and electoral rights. Voters originally had at least two votes in the Legislative Council, now they have lost the one vote for the super District Council seat.

This trend shows that the government has spared no effort to achieve its goal with a single move. From the once-existed “Hongkongers governing Hong Kong”, it is now the official-led “patriots ruling Hong Kong.” It is because they see that “foreign sanctions have little effects on Hong Kong” and foreign countries will not undermine their relations with China and hurt their own interests simply for the sake of Hong Kong’s democracy. However, the government should not think that this is it, and all of their wishes will be granted.

At present, there are two predictions. Firstly is that while the government strives for political security (in fact, it has long been secured, it is just the government is still worried and mostly about nothing), its efficiency of governance is not going to improve due to the relatively smooth legislation procedure, and instead would be greatly reduced. The public’s emotional and behavioral backlash will only make it much harder for the government’s policies and measures to be carried out and could even be lead to counterproductivity. Just look at the people’s reaction towards casting blank ballots. The more the government avoids the topic of blanks, the more the people are heavily discussing how they would cast blanks in future elections.

In the future, the government will only strengthen its administrative measures to push policies, yet this will generate a greater accumulation of conflicts. This is the kind of internal friction that nobody wants, yet if the government does not consider seriously the source of internal friction, and wishfully thinks that top-down pressure would be sufficient in suppressing the people’s opinion, then it is very wrong.

Secondly, the official façade will not be able to hold up very long. On the surface, the official reserve 20 seats for direct elections in the districts, and even hinted that “pan-democrats could also run.” According to sources within the political circle, relevant parties are looking for “suitable candidates to participate in this open election”, and hope that “newbies and youngsters will participate.” However, it can be foreseen that the “pan-democratic old batteries” have run out of juice; as for “newbies”, how fair and open of an election atmosphere will this really create? By then, the low turnout rate or a high percentage of blanks would also make the government look really ugly, and accumulate civil grievances nonetheless.

What’s more is that the government believes that a tailor-made system will strengthen the safety factor and is foolproof, yet history taught us that no matter how many loopholes the government tries to fill, there are bound to be more surprising ones to come in the future. It is because the wits and intelligence of the voters cannot be constrained. On the contrary, the greater the accumulation of grievances, the more bullets they are handing over to foreign countries; even if the government ignores it, and even when the pro-establishment keeps hinting that “things will eventually loosen up”, these are not going to eliminate the people’s grievances towards this sore loser of a government.

(Johnny Lau Yui-siu, current affairs commentator)

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