The Election Affairs Commission has failed Hong Kong voters

June 20, 2016 08:43
The more unfair our elections become, the more people will get disillusioned about the entire political system and drawn to extremism. Photo: Bloomberg

The 1991 Legislative Council election marked the beginning of Hong Kong’s long and bumpy road toward true democracy.

Since then, the achievement of universal suffrage has become the common goal of the people of this city.

However, despite the fact that Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law clearly stipulate that our chief executive and Legco will eventually be elected through universal suffrage, both Beijing and the Hong Kong government have been dragging their feet in delivering on this promise during the 19 years since the handover.

Worse still, Beijing went back on its word by announcing the so-called 831 resolution in 2014, which in effect disenfranchises the people of Hong Kong in the 2017 election for the chief executive and the 2020 Legco election.

And the democratization process in our city basically ground to an indefinite halt after Legco vetoed the government’s electoral reform proposal one year ago.

Deeply frustrated and completely disillusioned about the Basic Law and “one country, two systems”, many people in this city, especially the young social activists arising from the Occupy movement, have started to take their future back into their own hands.

While the moderate wing of these young social activists, often dubbed the “paratroopers”, mounted a full court press in the district council elections last year and pulled off some impressive upsets, the radical wing has been quickly drawn to nativism and even separatism.

In the meantime, some have given up fighting for immediate universal suffrage and set their sights on pushing for a referendum in 2047 to let the people of Hong Kong decide their own future.

In fact, discontent with and disaffection toward the government among the public have been mounting rapidly since the Occupy movement and are reaching the tipping point.

With no hope of casting their votes in the election for the chief executive in the foreseeable future, many people in this city see the Legco and district council elections as their last remaining pressure relief valves.

Failure to ensure that these elections are held in a free and fair manner might lead to a surge of public anger and social unrest that could destabilize the entire society.

The role of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC), which is charged with overseeing and managing our elections to make sure they are free, transparent and fair, has become more important than ever.

Unfortunately, under the leadership of chairman Barnabas Fung Wah, the EAC has failed to fulfill its role as the “referee” of our elections.

Fung has not only done a poor job in providing oversight of our elections but has also compromised the impartiality of the commission by publicly showing favor to pro-Beijing candidates and applying a double standard when it comes to enforcing election rules.

For example, shortly after the Legco by-election in February, several netizens who had posted messages on their Facebook pages rooting for Edward Leung Tin-kei, the candidate representing the Hong Kong Indigenous party, were brought under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption for suspected election fraud.

However, even Fung himself, supposedly the highest authority on election laws, wasn’t 100 percent sure and remained equivocal over whether social media messages posted by individual internet users showing support for a particular candidate should be counted as election advertising.

In other words, the ICAC were launching an investigation against netizens supporting radical candidates in the absence of conclusive evidence and sufficient legal grounds.

Apparently, what the ICAC was trying to do was to create a fait accompli, with the acquiescence of Fung, in presuming that social media messages are considered election advertisements -- a proposition that remains in dispute -- so as to intimidate anti-establishment netizens.

However, when Christopher Chung Shu-kun, the renegade lawmaker representing the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, dropped a political bombshell by revealing that the results for the Hong Kong Island constituency in the last Legco election were rigged because his party was secretly “coordinating” votes with the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions on election day, an act that constituted a violation of the Election Ordinance, Fung just looked the other way.

The fact that Fung blatantly applies a double standard by enforcing election rules in favour of the pro-establishment camp has taken its toll on the credibility of the EAC among the public, raising doubts about whether the commission can continue to oversee elections impartially in future.

As a matter of fact, both the administration and the EAC are simply digging their own graves by blatantly and openly taking sides with the pro-establishment camp.

It is because the more unfair our elections become, the more people will get disillusioned about the entire political system and drawn to extremism or even violence, and in the end, it will be all of society that pays the price.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 17.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal