Beijing’s actions don’t inspire love of country

December 31, 2020 06:00
Photo: Reuters

Opposition politicians are likely breathing a temporary sigh of relief. Local media had widely reported the National People’s Congress Standing Committee would discuss a major overhaul of Hong Kong’s political system to neutralize the opposition during its five-day meeting which ended last Saturday.

That didn’t happen. Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the NPCSC, insisted the issue wasn’t on the agenda. But not being on the agenda doesn’t necessarily mean media reports of a political overhaul were just fake news.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The media would not have otherwise widely reported an overhaul. Beijing was clearly shocked when the opposition – helped by public anger and city-wide protests against the government’s extradition bill – won a landslide in last year’s district council elections.

Voters showed their rage against Beijing and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor by handing pro-government candidates a humiliating defeat. The central government would not want such humiliation in future elections.

That’s why I believe Beijing must be thinking hard to prevent the opposition from influencing and dominating future elections, including Legislative Council elections and the selection of the chief executive. An overhaul of the political system is the only way. It will come when Beijing has considered all its options.

It was the same with the national security law. Beijing had secretly drafted the law ahead and surprised everyone, including top government officials and the establishment camp, by imposing it on Hong Kong late last June without any public consultation. Even Lam seemed to have been caught off guard.

There’s now talk the political overhaul could be on the agenda in March when the full National People’s Congress meets. News reports had said Beijing plans to disqualify opposition district councilors or change the system so they won’t have a kingmaker role in the 2022 chief executive election.

Reports had also said it will do away with the five so-called super seats in the Legislative Council reserved for district councilors who compete in Legco elections. The seats were created in 2012, following a compromise political reform deal between Beijing and the Democratic Party. The opposition won three of the five seats in both the 2012 and 2016 Legco elections.

District councilors have 117 seats in the 1,200-seat Election Committee that selects the chief executive. In the past, pro-government councilors had most of these seats. By winning 392 out of 452 district council seats in last year’s elections, opposition district councilors are now in a strong position to capture all 117 district council seats in the Election Committee.

That would give them a kingmaker role in the 2022 chief executive election, the last thing Beijing wants. By overhauling the district council system or disqualifying opposition councilors, Beijing can kill the influence of the opposition in the 2022 chief executive election. It can also reduce the influence of the opposition by scrapping the five Legco super seats.

If it does that, not only Hong Kong people but also the international community would condemn such a drastic move to silence the opposition, which won the votes of almost 1.7 million, or 57 percent, of registered voters compared with the pro-Beijing camp’s 1.2 million.

Overhauling the system or disqualifying opposition district councilors would be a slap in the face of 1.7 million registered voters. Tam Yiu-chung said many Hongkongers are unhappy with the performance of opposition district councilors.

I don’t know how many he means by “many”, but surely only voters can decide if they are happy or unhappy with district councilors, not Beijing. If voters are unhappy, they can vote them out at the next election.

Beijing wants Hongkongers to be patriotic. Slapping voters in the face will have the opposite effect. Hong Kong people take their right to vote for granted. And they expect the government to respect the outcome.

It doesn’t matter how many times the national anthem is played on TV and radio. When people see Beijing overhauling a political system to weaken the power of their vote by ensuring they can’t influence or dominate future elections, it will make them less rather than more patriotic.

Lam had promised her now-dead extradition bill would guarantee open and fair trials for those sent back to the mainland. Hongkongers have now seen what she meant by fair and open with the trial of the 12 young Hongkongers arrested at sea by the mainland while fleeing to Taiwan.

Their trial on Monday was anything but open. The media and foreign diplomats were barred from entering the court room. Even the families of the 12 were not allowed to enter. A mainland court yesterday jailed 10 of the 12 from between seven months and three years while two minors were sent back to Hong Kong. A harsh penalty for inadvertently entering mainland waters. The estimated two million who peacefully marched against the extradition bill have every right to feel vindicated.

My voice is just but one, if Beijing wants Hongkongers to love the country, it must start by listening to their voice instead of silencing them.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.