Olalekan A. Babatunde
Last Friday 5thMarch 2021, nearly 3,000 of Chinese lawmakers met at the National Peoples Congress (NPC-China’s top legislature) to deliberate over a draft decision on improving the electoral system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). The proposed changes include adjusting the size, composition and formation of Hong Kong’s election committee, which selects the city’s leader or chief executive, and expansion of the committee’s function to include electing a “relatively large share” of Hong Kong’s legislative body, and nominating candidates for the body.
According to Wang Chen, vice chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, while stressing the need to systematically implement the principle of ‘patriots governing Hong Kong’ said that the reformed electoral system would adjust and improve the size, composition and formation of the Election Committee in Hong Kong. It is the Election Committee that will elect the chief executive of the province, and will be entrusted with the new function of electing a relatively large share of Legislative Council (LegCo) members and directly participating in the nomination of all candidates for the LegCo.
This initiative promises a fresh and improved approach that will unleash Hong Kong democratic values, contrary to what the some media and critics will make the world to believe. They claimed it would erode Hong Kong’s democracy and violate Beijing’s commitment made to the international community regarding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy since its return in 1997. But this will not be so based on the experience on China’s structure, system and values. Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region (SAR) of China under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, has now become an object of politicization and confrontation with China by external forces. The proposed electoral reform will deter the meddlesomeness of the system; and also will strengthen fundamental freedoms, political pluralism and democratic principles.
Essentially, the crux of the revised electoral system is patriotism, one of the key attributes of the Chinese culture. Which country does not demand patriotism from its citizens or institutions? When asked about why China is so ahead on the race to 5G on GPS’ Fareed Zakaria on CNNon 7thMarch 2021, Eric Schmidt, former Google chief, said China was ten times ahead of the United States. A country that has four times more population might eclipse the US. According Schmidt, the Chinese “…are a significant global competitor to the west and to America; they are organized in central planning way…very smart people with global ambition. [I’m worried because of the structure of China], they’re gonna move quicker than we are, even as a democracy.” He was apparently referring to the structure that delivers world-class and reference-point development to China in the way the US is not.
Such structure is propelled by patriotism or national pride. Hong Kong Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang has defined patriotism as “holistic love” for China, including the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. China demands devotion and vigorous support from its citizens. Without this, China would not have been the economic, industrial and technological powerhouse of the world. Just this 2021, it has eradicated poverty by bringing the remaining 93 million people out of poverty and coupled with its success in keeping covid-19 under control. This is the quality borne out of age-long efficiency and effectiveness the NPC, that represents the voice of the people, is bringing to bear in Hong Kong. Though, as a nation that is represented by distinctive traditions, cultures and languages, China still remains a cohesive whole like most nations of the world.
Regardless of the ‘one country, two systems’ model bequeathed to it by the British, China is simply promoting civic patriotism that takes the existing imbrication of politics and cultures of both the mainland and Hong Kong seriously. According to Cecile Laborde (2002), “civil patriotism, … emphasizes the motivational prerequisites of democratic governance, stresses the need to preserve existing co-operative ventures such as nation-states, and demands that existing political cultures be democratically scrutinized and re-shaped in an inclusive direction.” It is that inclusiveness that will promote a political identity that will be compatible with Chinese characteristics that is being planned with the electoral reform. Therefore, one is confident that Hong Kong will be better for it in the long term.
The NPC’s effort to rejig the electoral system could be described as a major improvement for Hong Kong as it will serve as a constitutional assurance for implementing the principle of ‘patriots governing Hong Kong, and therefore brings it in tandem with the Chinese mainland. Definitely, the political life of Hong Kong that had been challenged by crises in recent years would return back to normal. In other words, the revised electoral system will remove chaos in Hong Kong. More robust and meaningful political roles have now been created for the city’s Chief Executive. As proposed, the Chief Executive will now be elected by the Election Committee and entrusted with the new function of electing a relatively large share of Legco members and directly participating in the nomination of all candidates for the LegCo, contrary to what had existed.
Again, once the electoral system is reformed, the divisive political issues and processes that entangled the city in recent history will be a thing of the past. Political encumbrances that could regress the economic and financial successes of the region through political shenanigans and protest will be blocked by the new system. The political process will be able to elect competent hands that serve Hong Kong’s development. Also, Hong Kong stands to gain tremendously if the electoral system is connected with governance process.
Over the last three years or so, there have been some misunderstandings and deep-seated problems about elections and democracy in Hong Kong. With the coming electoral regime, these misinterpretations or confusions will be explicitly explained and straightened-out. The intrusion of foreign influences into the Chinese politics and internal affairs that are stoking unrest will be a thing of the past when this revised electoral system takes off. Li Keqiang, the country’s premier buttressed it, saying ‘we will resolutely guard against and deter external forces’ interferences in the affairs of Hong Kong.’ What is more important is the protection and vibrancy of democracy in which people who truly love the country’s ideals and willing to sacrifice for its survival are involved in its democratic processes, participation and decision. It is when this is fixed that people around the world will envy the Chinese system yet again.
Hong Kong is a democratic region. Whatever that needs to be done for its improvement is both in the interest of the Hong Kongers and the rest of the Chinese people, inasmuch as those who are patriotic to the region’s cause and Chinese characteristics are in positions of authority. Election is the hallmark of participatory democracy. Thus, the central government is on the right path to help improve the electoral process of Hong Kong. The desire to return to the political stability and prosperity that Hong Kong was known for is more imperative particularly in the covid-19 pandemic era where nations are devising pragmatic means to overcome the attendant socio-economic and development challenges.
To this end, China’s central government and other stakeholders particularly the people of the city must ensure to further develop Hong Kong as an international and technology hub as well as support its development as a China-foreign cultural and artistic exchange centre. Hong Kong must be better than when it was returned by the British. Fortunately, the 14 Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) is loaded with opportunities that will transform the social and economic development of the special region to keep up with what it is used to be, ‘the Pearl of the Orient’. The new national security law and the revised electoral system are veritable mechanisms to achieve such feat for the region.
Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong’s chief executive, instils confidence that the revised electoral system is ‘timely, necessary, lawful and constitutional’. It is time for Hong Kong to wake up and put the interest of the region on the up and up. There is great optimism that the region is poised for an unprecedented development journey. Hong Kong will be for the Hong Kong people.