On Hong Kong’s revised electoral system

July 1, 1997, will go down in history as the night that Hong Kong was reverted to Chinese rule. This was in actualization of the September 1984 agreement signed between Britain and China approving the 1997 return of the island in exchange for a Chinese pledge to preserve Hong Kong’s capitalist system.

This momentous ceremony was well attended by eminent personalities and state men, including the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles of Wales, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

As captured in one of my articles last year, specifically the one on the National Security Law and the Prosperity of Hong Kong, Hong Kong popularly known as “the Pearl of the Orient” was part of China as far back as the Qin Dynasty in the third century B.C., and it remained a part of the Chinese Empire for about 2,000 years but lost control of this territory to Britain in the nineteenth century during the opium wars, making her a crown colony of the British Empire for a period of One Hundred and Fifty-Nine (159) years, until July 1st ,1997.

Upon her return, i.e. return of Hong Kong to China, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the PRC was formally established as an operation vehicle of the One Country Two System policy introduced or formulated in the early 1980s by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping during negotiations with the United Kingdom over Hong Kong which suggested that there would be only one China, but the regions of Hong Kong and Taiwan could retain their own economic and administrative systems, while the rest of Mainland China uses socialism with Chinese characteristic system.

To this effect, HKSAR made provisions for Hong Kong to: maintain a separate political and economic system from China( which is capitalism and have separate currency -the Hong Kong Dollar, HKD$) and retain independent executive, legislative, and judiciary powers in all matters other than military defense and foreign affairs. Furthermore, English and Chinese were to be the two official languages.

The politics of Hong Kong as a case in point takes place in a framework of a political system dominated by its quasi-constitutional document, the Hong Kong Basic Law, its own legislature, the Chief Executive as the head of government and of the HKSAR and of a politically constrained multi-party presidential system.

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is led by the Chief Executive, the head of government. The Chief Executive (CE) is the head of the special administrative region, and is also the highest-ranking official in the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and is the head of the executive branchWith regards to elections in Hong Kong, they mostly occur when certain political offices in the government need to be filled. To this end, the Electoral System under the HKSAR of the One Country, Two Systems makes provision for the office of the Chief Executive who is the head of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to be accountable to the Central People’s Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. As the head of government, he is to be elected by an Election Committee appointed by the Central People’s Government.

The Electoral System also provides for the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region which is the legislature of the Region. By now, it is no longer news that China’s biggest political gathering of the year – the National People’s Congress(NPC) meeting held earlier this month. What may be news however, would be the dramatic changes to the electoral system of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region which saw the electoral system of Hong Kong overhauled and reversed.

The decision which saw a nearly unanimous vote to pass the reforms, stands as one of the biggest political shake-up in Hong Kong since the city’s 1997 return to China from British control. As captured by News Wires, the reversal was through an amendment unanimously passed by 167 members of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Under the new law, Hong Kong’s legislature will be expanded from 70 to 90 seats. Only 20 of those seats will now be directly elected, down from 35. With this new development, the majority 40 will be chosen by a reliably pro-Beijing committee.

The remaining 30 will be chosen by functional constituency bodies representing certain industries and special interest groups that have also been historically loyal to Beijing. In the new electoral system also, anyone running for election will also have to be vetted for their political views. To this end, the vetting committee would be created by authorities in Hong Kong and the city’s new national security apparatus would have a say in who gets approved.

Furthermore, the National Security Committee as well as the National Security Police will provide reports on every single candidate to assist in the vetting by the qualification review committee. Details of the legislation will follow and could be implemented within months.This decision has no doubt, generated polarising reactions around the world.
There are people who take the view that this is the finally nail on the coffin of democracy in the Pearl of the orient, as the electoral reforms resolution are seen as an assault on democratic institution of Hong Kong, building on a controversial national security law for Hong Kong that passed last June in response to the antigovernment protests of 2019. It is worthy to note that with the national security law passed last year, acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are now barred in Hong Kong.

For some others, the reversed electoral laws have been seen as a welcome development in the sense that it will help in re-engineering and strengthening the One Country Two Systems. It is against this backdrop that I write this article to make my modest contribution on its implication on the One Country, Two Systems.For me, no matter how genuine the reservations against this policy reversal maybe, I think the far reaching benefits that the same reforms offer cannot be undermined.

There is no gain saying that the improvement of the electoral system is well intended and therefore to say that the reforms will go a long way in the steady practice of “one country, two systems” in the long run is to say the least. For example, a cursory look at the methods for the selection of the chief executive and the formation of the Legislative Council (LegCo) of the HKSAR formulated 30 years ago, shows some flaws which cannot but require rectification. In the wisdom of the NPC therefore, the LegCo will now be composed of 90 members which will include members returned by the Election Committee, those returned by functional constituencies, and those by geographical constituencies through direct election.

The net effect of these reforms just as argued by Xinhua, is that the new LegCo will now accommodate and strike a balance between the interests of all parties, help reduce the risks of politicization, radicalization and fragmentation in the LegCo, and ensure the full implementation of the principles of patriots administering Hong Kong.
Furthermore, the HKSAR’s Election Committee which has now beeen expanded from 1,200 members to 1,500, will no doubt broaden the gamut of political participation of Hong Kong compatriots and better integrate national interests with the overall interests of the Hong Kong society because the new Election Committee is now to take two major responsibilities of nominating candidates for the office of the Chief Executive and electing the Chief Executive designate, nominating all candidates for the LegCo, as well as electing some of the LegCo members.
Therefore, it can be categorically stated that the new Election Committee provides a conducive environment to safeguarding the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong residents. Therefore, as argued by Xiang Bo, the amended electoral system will not only fully respect the democratic rights of the public, but also earnestly safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests.

It is unchallengeable that Hong Kong, an inseparable part of China, must be administered by patriots. Under this constitutional order and political system, it is a natural requirement that Hong Kong must be governed by individuals the people have adjudged to be patriots – to include members of the legislature, judges in the Judiciary, and members of district organizations which are not organs of political power. Thus, the reversed electoral law for Hong Kong in my unbiased opinion, is a right step in the right direction.

Halidu, PhD is a lecturer with the Department of Political Science & International Relations, University of Abuja.
Email: [email protected]

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