Hong Kong governance ready to turn a new page

2021-03-08 12:05:10

Photo taken on July 14, 2020 shows the Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong, July 14, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua] Around the world, the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China is one of the very few constitutional documents to stipulate the direction, conditions and final goal of the change in its electoral system. Articles 45 and 68 specify that the ultimate aim for the election of the chief executive and Legislative Council members would be through universal suffrage. It remains the power of the central government to determine the political system, and these provisions represent the full respect of the central government toward the will of Hong Kong's people. No drafter of the Basic Law in the 1980s would have imagined that reform of the electoral system and universal suffrage would still be the subject of dominant political debate in Hong Kong, decades after reunification. In the past, each term of the HKSAR government used tremendous effort to tackle issues relating to constitutional development and universal suffrage. They have become the key question of any election, be it for chief executive, the Legislative Council or district councils. Unfortunately, economic issues, livelihood issues and deep-seated problems were largely neglected. The government typically spent around half of its five-year office term on such debates including preparation, consultation and lobbying of reform proposals to the Legislative Council and the general public. However, the result was increased polarization and politicization of society, more hatred and mistrust among groups of people in Hong Kong, and even rampant but illegitimate promotion of "independence" by a handful of citizens. The riots in 2014 and 2019 were all related to these debates, and the so-called genuine universal suffrage has become the focal point of foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs, which in turn sparked the violent movement of "Hong Kong independence". The enactment of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security has ended the turbulent political situation in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, if the SAR's electoral system is still subject to heated debate, thereby further tearing apart our community, Hong Kong would not be able to focus its efforts on tackling deep-seated problems. Therefore, the proposal of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, to reform the electoral system in Hong Kong should be welcomed. The core element of the reform is to redesign and empower the election committee in Hong Kong. This 1,200-seat committee serves to elect the chief executive in accordance with the Basic Law and relevant decisions by the NPC and its Standing Committee. It would also take part in nominating all and electing a significant proportion of Legislative Council members. With an effective vetting system of candidates in place, future members of Hong Kong's governance structure, including Legislative Council members, will all be patriots. Balanced participation of different sectors, as well as national security, would be safeguarded. Hong Kong is an international city with a blend of Chinese and Western culture. Western democracy, in the form of universal suffrage, has been regarded by a number of Western countries as a model that Hong Kong should follow, even though the electoral systems of Western advanced economies differ a lot in practice. But in recent years, overseas experience has demonstrated that universal suffrage based on simple rule of majority may not be conducive to consensus building or better governance. More often than not, disputes in election procedures and results would further polarize a society, which could result in serious violence and riots. The January riot at the United States Capitol is one example. It is high time we focused our efforts on better governance of Hong Kong, including the grooming of young political talent, as well as formulation of better policies that tackle the land problem, poverty issues and the social mobility of younger generations. Once the power of administering Hong Kong rests in the safe hands of patriots, many of the SAR's deep-seated problems can be resolved more effectively. Hong Kong will definitely turn a new page after the decadeslong debate on the electoral system is put to an end. The HKSAR government can move forward its grandiose economic development plan, including integration into the Chinese mainland, which would help alleviate many acute problems facing Hong Kong. And Hong Kong's residents would be able to build a better city and explore further development opportunities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, and at the same time share the glory of the nation's development. The author is founder and chairman of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum based in Hong Kong. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.