16 October 2018
Hong Kong activists join hands before a news conference June 29 to announce the voting results of the civil referendum on electoral reforms. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong activists join hands before a news conference June 29 to announce the voting results of the civil referendum on electoral reforms. Photo: Reuters

HK referendum: The message is loud and clear

The verdict is unambiguous. Hong Kong people want political reforms and a bigger say in the choice of the city’s top leader. 

An unofficial referendum that concluded on Sunday saw nearly 800,000 residents — more than a fifth of Hong Kong’s electorate — cast their vote, sending a clear signal to the central government that Hongkongers oppose any mechanism that would screen out candidates deemed inconvenient to Beijing.

The impressive turnout in the mock poll, which was organized by the Occupy Central protest group, shows that locals are concerned about upholding of the core values of the city, including a fair and open justice system and various personal freedoms.

The recent debate surrounding the 2017 chief executive election, and the Legislative Council’s handling of a funding plan for development of northeastern New Territories, have dented the public’s trust in the government.

Many people feel that mainland authorities are trying to step up interference in Hong Kong affairs to drive Beijing’s own policy agenda, rather than following what the Hong Kong people want.

According to the civil referendum results, 88 percent of voters want the legislature to veto a government proposal that was seen as failing to satisfy international standards on allowing genuine choices for electors.

And the voters also supported the inclusion of a public nomination method in the options to choose candidates for the chief executive election. That proposal, not surprisingly, is strongly opposed by the central government as it fears it could pave the way for a Beijing-unfriendly person to run for the city’s top job.

Hong Kong people clearly know what they want: they want a stable society with an efficient, democratic government and sound political system. Rejection of Beijing’s prior screening and the right for public nomination of candidates are seen as important elements in the fight for true democracy.

Beijing has said the chief executive election needs to follow the mechanism laid out under the city’s Basic Law, while also reiterating its stance that public nomination is unlawful under the current legal framework.

Hong Kong has long been maintaining its uniqueness by ensuring that various voices in the society are heard. That’s why a social activist like “long hair” Leung Kwok Hung could participate in the Legislative Council (Legco) election and become one of the most popular councilors in Hong Kong, even though he is a constant thorn in the government’s side.

Leung represented more than 40,000 voters in the 2012 election and he does bring in a diverse voice to the Legco, pushing the government to improve its performance.

Given the need to have a leader who represents the vast majority of the public, there is no reason why the government should screen out candidates deemed difficult for Beijing, pro-democracy activists say.

Calls for a fair and just election system have also increased after the recent saga in Legco regarding the northeastern New Territories development plan. Pro-establishment councilors have failed to respect the opposition camp’s request for further discussion on the plan and put the funding bill for approval, in what critics describe as one of the sorry chapters in Hong Kong’s parliamentary politics.

That showed the dominance of pro-establishment camp in the council due to the existing functional constituencies and other election processes. Under the system, small groups of political elites have taken charge, following the government’s line on major issues rather than acting in the public’s interests, critics say.

As the number of seats and number of votes is not directly linked, the opposition camp is hindered even if they win more votes. In the 2012 Legislative Council election, for example, the opposition camp had more votes than the pro-establishment group but the latter secured more than half of the seats.

Should the chief executive election also filter out non-Beijing-friendly candidates, it could make Hong Kong a place without opposition voices and the lack of a proper monitoring force over the government. The administration will lack internal push for improvement and there will be a further blurring of the line between the “one country” and “two systems”.

Hong Kong people are aware that Beijing authorities have the right to accept the chief executive election result in 2017. But they aver that Beijing doesn’t need to put in a gate to limit the choice of candidates. The people have the wisdom to choose the best leader who will act in the interests of the whole society, rather than meet the needs of a few elite, they say.

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EJ Insight writer

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