Beijing seeking new ways to win HK elections

September 30, 2016 11:56
Student leader Joshua Wong (center) joins supporters in celebrating victory of Nathan Law (2nd from right) in the Legislative Council election earlier this month. Photo: Reuters

What lies ahead for Hong Kong after the Legislative Council election which saw a record high voter turnout?

Some changes are already underway.

There have been calls to exploit the voting rights of Hong Kong permanent residents who have foreign passports yet there will be stiff objections, even from the pro-establishment bloc, if such a suggestion were to be implemented.

Many Hongkongers, on top of their right of abode in the territory, have British National (Overseas) passports, while others are Canadian, Australian or US nationals.

Indeed, throughout all the Legco elections after the handover, permanent residents who are not Chinese nationals or have the right of abode in foreign countries have been allowed to stand for election in 12 designated functional constituencies (mainly legal, financial and engineering services) “to give due recognition to the significant contribution made by foreign nationals and the fact that Hong Kong is an international city”, as a stated policy.

But I urge the government to amend the law to disqualify anyone with foreign nationality to sit on the 1,200-member election committee for the next CE race, which is fast approaching.

These “kingmakers”, either ex officio members like lawmakers or National People’s Congress deputies or returned via elections in such sectors as finance, legal and engineering, may have dual nationalities and some of them are actually foreigners.

At the same time, Beijing may want to reflect on its election strategies after the humiliating setback for Hong Kong’s pro-establishment groups.

It has no qualms about canvassing votes for its favored candidates, although its excesses no longer surprise anyone in Hong Kong.

Though Beijing will never admit it, its efforts at “coordination”, mainly through its operatives at the Liaison Office, may have contravened the law.

For instance, some voters say their registered addresses were unexplainably changed, while there have been reports that some voters’ mainland cousins were given “warm reminders” to persuade their Hong Kong relatives to “vote wisely” for a more “harmonious” future.

It’s also possible that next time Beijing may allow Hongkongers living on the mainland to vote at designated polling stations, similar to the absentee voting arrangements for US citizens living abroad, who can cast their ballots at the nearest US embassy or consulate.

There are no less than 200,000 Hongkongers working or studying in Guangdong province as well as in Beijing and Shanghai, according to various estimates.

Surely these voters can be easily directed or manipulated to consolidate the base of Beijing-friendly candidates.

Just imagine who will then dare to pick someone that advocates full autonomy or Hong Kong independence when he votes on the mainland, likely under close watch of some “concerned” officials or stern-faced national security agents?

In that scenario there’s little we can do, but the Electoral Affairs Commission must be able to send scrutineers to the mainland to at least ensure a transparent vote count.

In the next four years the government will find it even harder to force bills through the legislature once young localists and traditional democrats form a coalition at a time when the pro-Beijing camp has never been so split.

Will Beijing then prod the SAR officials to look for ways to sack lawmakers who are a thorn in its side?

We can’t rule that out.

Remember how Hong Kong Indigenous’ Edward Leung ran afoul of the election commission's requirement against separatist views and was barred from running?

Yet I sincerely hope Beijing won’t do so.

It must bear in mind that these defiant young lawmakers has amassed about 30,000-50,000 votes each, and as such, they have, to some extent, the Hong Kong people's mandate.

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

Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting 

[Chinese version 中文版]

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When asked about the role of the Liaison Office in the Legco election, Wang Zhenmin, director of its legal affairs division, said it would be negligence of duty if Beijing officials had not monitored and guided the election. Photo: NowTV

A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal