Legislative Council 2021: Results provide real hope despite foreign meddling
Updated 11:04, 22-Dec-2021
Grenville Cross
The media center at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, south China, December 19, 2021. /Xinhua

The media center at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, south China, December 19, 2021. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Grenville Cross is a senior counsel and professor of law and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The following article was first published by DotDotNews. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

When the Sino-British Joint Declaration was finalized in 1984, it said nothing about democracy, let alone universal suffrage. This was not surprising, as its whole emphasis was upon maintaining Hong Kong's previous capitalist system and way of life after the handover in 1997, and democracy, certainly in any meaningful sense, was never a part of its colonial tradition. Under British rule, there was never any real appetite for democratic politics, and there was, therefore, no democratic legacy requiring continuation.

Many observers, therefore, were pleasantly surprised that, when it promulgated the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) in 1990, the National People's Congress (NPC) placed democracy at the heart of its future political development. In respect of elections for both the chief executive and the Legislative Council, democratic procedures were prescribed, with the "ultimate aim" for each being "universal suffrage." This, of course, would have been unthinkable in colonial times, when, for example, people had no say in who should be their next governor.

After 1997, things moved rapidly. Whereas in the first Legislative Council elections of 1998, only 20 seats were directly elected from the geographical constituencies, this rose to 35 seats at the elections in 2012, which was half the total, and this would have been expanded going forward. This betokened a huge show of faith in Hong Kong by Beijing, and the only question was whether the city could embrace these opportunities. If this far-sighted experiment succeeded, it could well have provided a model for other major cities to emulate, but, alas, this was not to be. After protesters created mayhem in 2014 by occupying the Central district and other areas, leading to nearly 1,000 arrests, opposition legislators, in a stunning display of irresponsibility, actively encouraged them. Moreover, when the government introduced a proposal to enable the chief executive to be elected by universal suffrage, they blocked it in 2015.

After the Legislative Council election of 2016, things worsened. It became clear that the democratic experiment was being sabotaged from within by people who were unsuited to elected office. Whereas some newly-elected legislators, like Nathan Law Kwun chung, failed to take their oaths of office in the manner prescribed by law, others, like Ted Hui Chi-fung, resorted to violence, both in the council and on the streets, and showed no interest in responsible governance or people's welfare. Worst of all, however, was the lawyer-heavy Civic Party, whose legislators paralyzed the work of the Legislative Council for many months, whitewashed the activities of rioters, sought to undermine the police force at a critical juncture, and even implored the United States to impose harmful measures on Hong Kong and its officials.

Quite clearly, their activities showed that the Western-style democratic model was not working, and that, however sad, things had to change. Indeed, had the chaos been allowed to continue, there was a real possibility that the "One Country, Two Systems" principle would have been wrecked altogether, as some of them wanted. However, although Beijing could well have called time on the whole experiment it kept faith with Hong Kong, and took steps to ensure that the electoral system could never again be subverted by people who wished to harm the country.

Following the "Decision on Improving the Electoral of the HKSAR," which the NPC took on March 11, the electoral arrangements were overhauled in a way that would avoid any further abuse. It was recognized that, if Hong Kong was to succeed, the "One Country, Two Systems" principle had to be upheld, and this was only possible if those seeking elected office were loyal, thus fulfilling the "patriots administering Hong Kong" principle, as envisaged by the former paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, in 1984. In practical terms, this meant that anybody wishing to stand for election for the 90 seats in the expanded Legislative Council had to genuinely intend to uphold the Basic Law and be committed to both the city and the country. In other words, there was no longer any role for political wreckers or foreign proxies, and those elected under the revised system will now be trusted to commit themselves to the public good and the national interest.

Once the campaign for the 2021 Legislative Council elections on December 19 got underway, there was huge interest. There were 153 hopefuls vying for the 90 seats, coming from all walks of life, with a diversity of political standpoints. On the streets, for example, candidates for the 20 geographical seats and their supporters vigorously campaigned, and, in a break with 2016, when nine of the functional constituency seats were not contested, all 30 were contested this time. A striking feature of the candidates was the variety in their ages, occupations and backgrounds, and this boded well for the representative nature of the next council.

Voters wait to cast their ballot at a polling station in Wan Chai of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, south China, December 19, 2021. /Xinhua

Voters wait to cast their ballot at a polling station in Wan Chai of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, south China, December 19, 2021. /Xinhua

However, as Hong Kong gradually got itself back on track, those responsible for having derailed it in the past again flexed their muscles. Although their earlier hopes of wrecking the  "One Country, Two Systems" principle and using the city as a base for destabilizing China had been thwarted, they did not give up. Instead, having ruined one democratic model, they then set about trying to undermine its successor, and they decided that the best way to do this was by adopting a four-pronged strategy of disruption.

First, anti-China forces around the world, including in the Western media, were mobilized, and they duly denounced the election as "illegitimate," hoping this would turn off potential voters. On December 13, for example, Benedict Rogers, the serial fantasist who operates the London-based Hong Kong Watch, the anti-China propaganda outfit, told UCA News that the forthcoming election was a "total farce" and that Hong Kong voters should either go to the polling station and "put a spoiled ballot paper in the ballot box," or else "stay at home and watch a movie." Moreover, when he was interviewed by GB News on December 17, Rogers, with a straight face, told Isabel Oakeshott that anybody wishing to stand for election had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Communist Party of China, which, even for him, was a fallacy too far, although Oakeshott eagerly gobbled it up.

Second, in a related tactic, criminal fugitives from Hong Kong, some with considerable social media followings, sought, in coordinated moves around the world, to discourage people from voting. Thus, on December 18, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) revealed that the courts had issued arrest warrants for five criminal fugitives, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, ex-student leader, Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang, and former district councilors Timothy Lee Hin-long, Lee Ka-wai and Carmen Lau Ka-man. They are wanted for allegedly hosting a livestream on social media in which they urged voters to stay at home, notwithstanding that it is an offense to incite people to boycott the election or cast invalid ballots, punishable with a fine of 200,000 Hong Kong dollars (approximately $25,642.18) and three years' imprisonment.

Last month, similar warrants were issued for two other overseas fugitives, Ted Hui Chi-fung and former district councilor Yau Man-chun.

Although these fugitives are all operating from different foreign bases, they are doing so with the connivance of the various governments. Those governments, of course, consider that, so far as democracy is concerned, "one size fits all," and that only their way of doing things is acceptable. It is either their way or not at all, and this provides them with a convenient cover for their hopes of weakening China by destabilizing Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong tried their way, and it almost destroyed the "One Country, Two Systems" principle and an improved electoral model, which cannot be abused, is now taking root. This, however much they may squeal, will help to ensure the continuation of the city's capitalist system and way of life.

Although Law is London-based, he has, as a key proxy, been lionized by both the current and previous U.S. administrations for maligning China, and, on December 14, he reportedly advised people to "just ignore" the election. In the U.S., Brian Leung Kai-ping, who gained notoriety by vandalizing the Legislative Council on July 1, 2019, and is now the executive director of the "Hong Kong Democracy Council," told voters that the election was "unconstitutional and illegitimate," and did not "merit being called an election at all," As for Alex Chow Yong-kang, who, with Law, was convicted in 2017 of an unlawful assembly that left 10 people injured, and is now also in the U.S., he told people to "boycott the elections because it is a way to protest against the government." In Australia, where he is an honored guest of the Morrison government, the message from the convicted felon and conman, Ted Hui Chi-fung, was that "we are calling for protest votes or blind votes."

Meanwhile, in Germany, the ex-Apple Daily employee, Glacier Kwong Chung-ching, who spends her days begging German politicians to slap sanctions on Chinese officials and has just been appointed a researcher for the U.S.-based "Hong Kong Democracy Council," also tried to undermine the election, as the ICAC has hopefully noted. She appeared on both Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster, and CNN to announce that the election was a "sham" and that there was no point in people voting as "it's a selection, not an election."

Although nobody will ever know for sure the impact that these hostile voices from abroad had upon the election, they will undoubtedly have influenced some people, particularly the gullible and the young, and discouraged their participation.

Third, political extremists in Hong Kong have taken the anti-election campaign to a new level and sought to frighten people from voting. On December 14, for example, the police arrested 10 alleged members of a "hidden" grouping and seized 201 air guns, some as powerful as the anti-riot shotgun, and they consider they may have been intended to disrupt the election. On December 15 and 16, two men were arrested for inciting attacks on polling stations on December 19. One of them reportedly managed a Telegram app with some 2,000 subscribers, and people were allegedly incited to cast blank votes, torch polling stations and attack public officials. Among the Facebook posts ascribed to them, two stand out, namely, "Don't vote if you want the Americans to help Hongkongers," and "say no more, set fire directly." What the impact of threats of this sort was upon the electorate is anybody's guess, but they will certainly not have encouraged the fainthearted to participate in the election.

Fourth, some political parties have refused to participate in the election or even seek to participate. This, of course, is very strange, as participating in elections is what local politics is all about. Their failure to engage obviously prevented supporters from voting for the party's candidates, and some probably did not bother to vote at all. The Democratic Party, for example, chaired by Lo Kin-hei, did not field any candidates, and this may also have adversely affected the turnout, which may have been what was intended.

This hostile four-pronged policy could well, therefore, have materially affected the number of people who voted, and it helps explain the final turnout in the geographical constituencies. That said, the new democratic model was unfamiliar to many, and a lot of people will, recalling the antics of the opposition legislators in the 6th-term Legislative Council, have become disillusioned with politics altogether. Confidence, however, will gradually return once people see that the incoming legislators are capable of delivering responsible governance. The irony is, of course, that the decision of some people to stay away will have actually harmed the prospects of "pro-dem" candidates, like Mandy Tam Heung-man, in Kowloon Central, and Frederick Fung Kin-kee, in Kowloon West, who were both well beaten.

In all the circumstances, however, a turnout of 1.3 million, or 30.2 percent, while not great, is certainly a respectable result for a fresh electoral model and provides a solid foundation upon which to build in the future. The incoming legislators, while all patriotic, will have widely differing views on domestic issues and will undoubtedly hold the government to account. The first-time legislators include people of wide experience and genuine promise, like the former security secretary, Lai Tung-kwok, the social welfare professional, Connie Lam So-wai, and the political analyst, Joephy Chan Wing-yan, and they offer real hope for a better future.

Unlike many of their predecessors, these are people who are not entering politics to create mayhem, advance the interests of foreign powers, or confront Beijing. Instead, they want, for example, to improve people's livelihoods, provide better governance and develop Hong Kong's potential as a global financial center. Although they may well differ as to the means of achieving this, they are all people of goodwill and have the well-being of their city and country at heart. In their hands, Hong Kong now has an assured future.

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