Kudos to the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) for keeping its decision to organise the upcoming Legislative Council by-elections on March 11, without bowing to the pro-Beijing camp’s request to reschedule the date to avoid a clash with the annual session of China’s legislature.
Last week, the EAC announced that the by-elections will fill vacant seats for Hong Kong Island, New Territories East and Kowloon West, as well as the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency. The nomination period will be held from Jan. 16 to 29.
In fact, there should have been no quarrel about the date as the EAC simply followed the law. However, the law provides no exact requirement on when a by-election should be held after the Legislative Council announces a vacantcy. That creates a loophole for external parties to intervene in the EAC decision to make the timing of the by-elections favorable to them.
Some in the pro-Beijing camp are not happy with the decision because the date of the by-elections clashes with China’s “two sessions” – the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body.
They may need to fly between Hong Kong and Beijing to participate in the election campaign of the candidates they nominate, as well as to perform their duty as representatives of the Beijing bodies.
They need to spend money on flights and hotel accomodations for these trips, but is this reason related to the public interest?
From the perspective of the Hong Kong public, it is a matter only for pro-Beijing loyalists, not affecting most of us. The discontent is limited to a small group of upper-class people in Hong Kong.
But the pro-Beijing leaders are criticising the EAC for not observing “political tradition” given that the twin sessions are always held in early March which is a busy month for people participating in national affairs.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the largest pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong, questioned the timing of the elections, saying some officials had shown a lack of knowledge of national politics.
The criticism was echoed by New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip, who said the date might be inconvenient for Hong Kong delegates who will have to head to Beijing for the meeting. “On election day, all the voters in the regions who are NPC delegates will have to fly back to Hong Kong. It will hinder their vote-getting efforts on behalf of their favorite candidates. It will cause a lot of inconvenience,” she said. Some of them even pointed out that people “from the north” were not happy with the arrangement.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam shared a similar view, saying the election date could cause inconvenience to people attending Beijing’s congress. But she made no further comment, which showed her respect for the independence of the EAC.
But Lam’s No. 2, Matthew Cheung, told the media that the government had worked hard on the selection of the election date. Did Cheung mean that the government had anything to do with the choice of the election date? if so, the administration itself intervened in the decision of the EAC, in violation of the EAC’s neutrality. If the government had lobbied the EAC on behalf of the pro-establishment candidates, then clearly, it was unfair to the pan-demorcatic camp.
One of the significant changes in Hong Kong after the handover is the lack of respect for anyone who holds a different political view. Only Beijing loyalists seem to have a say when it comes to setting standards for the community.
For example, in 2016, the government required all candidates for the Legco election to declare their allegiance to the Basic Law and respect to the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong SAR. That was clearly meant to block pro-independence advocates from running in the elections.
This time, the pro-Beijing camp may challenge the EAC to make the election favorable to them. If they are unhappy about the date, let them file a judicial review and allow the courts to decide.
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