23 October 2016
The LegCo election of 2016 can serve as an opportunity for Hong Kong voters to ensure sufficient checks and balances to whoever becomes the chief executive next year. Photo: Bloomberg
The LegCo election of 2016 can serve as an opportunity for Hong Kong voters to ensure sufficient checks and balances to whoever becomes the chief executive next year. Photo: Bloomberg

Forget 2017, focus on the 2016 LegCo election instead

The government’s all-out campaign, spearheaded by top officials, to garner public support for the 2017 election plan has failed to convince enough people to change their stance. 

Rolling public opinion polls conducted by three local universities showed that, contrary to the government’s rhetoric, those in favor of the election reform proposal fall short of a simple majority, while the proportion of those who oppose the bill has remained constant at almost 40 percent.

Sixty-three percent of youngsters aged between 18 and 29 said they are against the Beijing-backed plan. And 54 percent of respondents with tertiary degrees or above deemed the package unacceptable.

Now, senior officials and members of the pro-establishment camp need to ask themselves this question: do they genuinely buy the notion that if they can push through the electoral reform bill — despite numerous steadfast objections — Hong Kong’s governance woes will end and that the city can prosper with no more cross-border disputes?

The people rejecting the bill have a sound mind and clear rationale. So when senior officials engage in their district campaigns, they would do well not to assume that they can easily talk people over to their side.

If the authorities are convinced that they have a solid case, I wonder why chief executive Leung Chun-ying has turned down requests for an open debate on the issue?

In my previous column I raised the question about what Hong Kong can do, and must do, when the “one country, two systems” arrangement expires in about 32 years. I had urged everyone to face Beijing and local officials with dignity and reason.

Now, I will propose specific things that Hongkongers can do that could bring some positive, real changes.

The first thing, as I have said, is to reject the bill. The refusal, though hardly a remedy for our current predicaments, is indeed the lesser of two evils compared to all the adverse consequences we will have to go thorough should we choose to accept the package.

After that, surely our young democrats will carry on with their fight. The most constructive solution, from my perspective, is to team up to vote and mobilize their parents, relatives, peers and friends to do so in the 2016 Legislative Council election.

The synergy of these votes combined can effectively transform Hong Kong’s political landscape.

When the authorities have ruled out any chance of fine-tuning the proposed election framework, the only way out is our vote which can at least determine some members of the legislature.

In previous elections, voter registration and overall turnout rate remained at low levels and young people’s participation had been rather lukewarm.

The last LegCo election in 2012, for instance, saw just half of eligible young people (aged between 18 and 25) register as voters – 365,000 in total – and among them only 44.5 percent turned out to cast their ballots.

If more young people are willing to come out to vote in 2016 to push the overall turnout rate to 70 percent, there can be an extra of 200,000 votes, large enough for the pan-democratic camp to grab one extra seat in each geographical constituency.

Then the crux of the matter is how to coordinate various factions within the bloc to make sure that new votes won’t go to candidates backed by Beijing.

Also, it remains to be seen if old-line figures and the ruling oligarchy of democratic parties — who have already seen some of their support getting eroded — will make some sacrifices and assist young contenders or even someone without party affiliation to run.

I believe firmly that it is the 2016 LegCo election that will hold the key to Kong Kong’s future, rather than how the chief executive will be elected in 2017.

It won’t be off the mark to forecast that candidates from the pro-establishment side, with blessing and backing from Beijing and the Hong Kong government, will do everything they can to trounce rivals and strip democratic lawmakers of their critical minority status, so as to render them unable to veto any bill tabled by the government.

I don’t want that to happen.

When the “one country” clearly takes precedence over “two systems” under the current political climate, it’s not hard to image what will happen if there are no checks and balances from the legislature.

The 2016 LegCo election can also be an occasion for multilateral debate and reflection to chart Hong Kong’s development.

Given the critical juncture, each and every Hongkonger, especially those who have never registered to vote, are obliged to actively engage in the discussion and follow their conscience in casting their votes.

It is a responsibility that history has put on our shoulders. We owe this to our next generation.

With enough voters, Hong Kong’s political development could start anew. And it is my wish that the new generation of leaders would strive for a better future for our city.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 6.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The 2012 LegCo election saw lukewarm turnout rate among young eligible voters but democratic lawmakers succeeded in securing their critical minority veto power. Photo:

Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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