Early August, and party leaflets seeking support for candidates standing in the Legco elections on 4 September are already dropping into mail boxes throughout the city. It should be the time when the electorate of Hong Kong, or at least those voters who are not on holiday, focuses on the candidates’ platforms and their perceived fitness to serve as members of Legco. But not this year.
Instead for the past several weeks, the public debate has been concerned with those who seek electors’ support but for whom electors will not be permitted to vote, the six banned, pro-independence, would-be Legco candidates. It has been all about the separatists/independence seekers/radicals. And most of the publicity for the non-candidates has been helpfully generated by the Hong Kong Government and the representatives of Beijing in Hong Kong.
Controversy began with the official issuance in Hong Kong of a supplement to the nomination form all aspiring candidates have to sign, a form that commits them to uphold the Basic Law, of which Article 1 asserts that Hong Kong is an alienable part of China. The supplementary declaration similarly committed candidates to uphold the Basic Law but came with the threat that non-compliance by those who signed could result in criminal prosecution, a claim of dubious legal substance, as was the supplementary declaration itself, which immediately attracted legal challenges and widespread refusal by candidates to sign it.
Shortly afterwards, Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the PRC Liaison Office in Hong Kong, announced that allowing independence candidates to stand for seats in Legco was wrong in principle and detrimental to the development of Hong Kong.
In these confusing circumstances the task of banning candidates was left to the Electoral Affairs Commission, a respectable body of Hong Kong worthies, whose considered judgments were arrived at totally impartially as dictated by the phase of the moon, the alignment of the stars and the strength of the wind from the North.
These judgments of the Commission, also potentially open to legal challenge, make the creation of the supplementary declaration at once redundant and inexplicable. If the Commission had the powers to exclude candidates irrespective of their signature or lack thereof on the declaration this additional requirement was lacking point, purpose or legitimacy; so why did allegedly competent officials issue it?
The subsequent announcement that Beijing would not undertake an interpretation of Hong Kong’s electoral laws does indicate there lurks somewhere between Hong Kong and Beijing a spark of political commonsense capable of recognizing such an interpretation would have created more problems than it solved. But serious damage to the wisdom and integrity of officialdom had already been done.
For electors this is at once confusing and disturbing. How to deal with those who seek elective office while advocating independence is a challenge but hardly one to prompt panic, over-reaction, incompetence and the whiff of illegitimate practice on the part of officials.
The outcome also presents the electorate with an unprecedented spread of political options, stretching from the Beijing-leaning DAB (Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong) to the independence-yearning ALLinHK, Hong Kong Indigenous, or CP-PPI-HKRO – see below.
To help voters find their way through this forest of candidates, all 289 of them, and their thickets of parties, some questions are suggested that may help clarify the policies and objectives of those who seek to represent them.
If you are inclined to vote for these candidates, essentially status quo supporters, your decision is straightforward. But you can have some fun asking them, their campaign team or representatives whether or not they support C Y Leung to be the Chief Executive of the HKSAR after the 2017 election. And if they do, why. And if they don’t, why not. The DAB, Liberal Party and New People’s Party should, for example, give an interesting range of answers. Also:
- What have been your party’s significant, signature achievements in Legco?
- What policies are you offering to protect and promote the welfare and interests of the people of Hong Kong?
If independence is your preference, your choice of candidate, should you have the opportunity to vote for one, should be simple; but one has to wonder if Civic Passion-Proletariat Political Institute-Hong Kong Resurgence Order (CP-PPI-HKRO), will fit on the voting form, and whether a shorter form of the party’s the name would be helpful. Presently, it has the feel of a Russian Marxist group of 1917. Regardless, there are a number of clarifications one should seek:
- How do you plan to achieve your goal?
- Will your methods involve violence?
- As you plan to violate Article 1 of the Basic Law, do you also place no value on other critical features of the Basic Law, such as the freedom of speech and assembly?
- What responses do you believe the Governments in Hong Kong and Beijing will make to your campaigns and how will you deal with them? And how will you respond/escalate?
- For example, if a new government in 2017 were to propose security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law, how will you react?
- Apart from calling for independence, what other policies does your party have to address the concerns of Hong Kong people, such as the wealth gap, public health, pollution, education etc?
This group of candidates includes the pan-democrats and sympathetic independents.
- You/your colleagues have maintained total opposition to C Y Leung and his continuation as Chief Executive after the 2017 elections. How do you plan to prevent his reelection? Will this involve public demonstrations or even violence?
- If C Y Leung is appointed Chief Executive, despite your objections, will you work with the Government on matters of public interest and welfare or will you maintain your campaign of filibustering and non-cooperation?
- During his trial for allegedly throwing a glass at the Chief Executive in the Legco chamber, Raymond Wong Yuk-man stated that as an opposition lawmaker it was his job to insult the Chief Executive and government via filibustering and physical protests. Do you share this view of the responsibilities of Legco members?
- You/your colleagues have been active in defending Hong Kong’s freedoms and prerogatives, for example over the Hong Kong bookseller issue. What policies do you have to offer on other issues of public concern, such as health care, education, pollution, the increasing gap between rich and poor, or the independence of public bodies such as the ICAC?
- Looking back on the last year, do you believe Legco has been doing an effective job furthering the interests and welfare of the Hong Kong people?
- What are the signature achievements of your party in Legco?
These questions are far from comprehensive. But they do form a basis to which people may add better and more penetrating enquiries. The September Legco election campaign has had a confused and discouraging start. One can only hope it will have a more constructive and encouraging outcome.