Radical politics will make Hong Kong’s 2016 legislative election the most important in the SAR’s history
Regina Ip says for a city this divided, the upcoming election – which features candidates taking diametrically opposed positions on a range of issues – is likely to shape the future of the city like never before
The upcoming Legislative Council election in September is very likely to go down in Hong Kong’s 19-year history as a special administrative region as the most consequential to its future.
An unprecedented number of newcomers from both the pro-establishment and the pan-democratic camps have emerged to challenge the incumbents. The election issues mooted so far – “Hong Kong independence” versus “one country, two systems”, the campaign for Leung Chun-ying’s resignation versus support for his re-election, localism versus nationalism, Hong Kong values versus mainland culture – all point to deep divisions in our society and forces tugging in opposite directions. The campaign slogans unveiled by several political parties show a wish to “take back Hong Kong’s future”. Which side will the people be on – establishment or anti-establishment? That is the question.
The election will test Hong Kong in a number of ways. It will test the sustainability of Legco as an institution. The filibustering practice first adopted by legislator “mad dog” Wong Yuk-man in 2012 – to obstruct the passage of a bill to prohibit legislators who resigned standing for office again within six months – has spread like wildfire, engulfing the council at all levels. Statutory committees responsible for vetting government funding and staffing requests have had to go into overdrive to clear the backlog of unfinished business. The Legco secretariat has put down a marker for at least eight more hours of work for the Finance Committee in the coming week, the last week before the current term expires.
Taking the cue from Wong, other legislators who objected to any government bill for whatever reason have learned to exploit the loopholes in the existing rules of procedure.
Filibustering killed the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014, which, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, Winnie Tam Wan-chi, had taken pains to explain, posed no threat to the freedom of expression or publication.
On July 6, in a solo effort to obstruct the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016, which will enable disciplinary hearings into alleged malpractice by doctors to be speeded up and remedy the shortfall of doctors at the Hospital Authority, Dr Leung Ka-lau rang the quorum bells about two dozen times and moved a motion to adjourn the debate on the bill. Such filibustering will not only derail the bill, but could also jeopardise two other important bills on the agenda – one to regulate private columbariums and another to improve fire safety by introducing a new class of certified fire engineers.
If Legco is unable to cure itself of such extreme and irresponsible filibustering in the next term, government business will continue to be mired in a senseless and wasteful cycle of bell-ringing and legislative paralysis. Hong Kong as a whole will lose the ability to cure itself of its many social, economic and political woes.
The election will also test Hong Kong as a nascent democracy. Will the public vote for candidates who stand for reason and pragmatism, or candidates who thrive on populist slogans, lies and false information spread through the internet? Can they resist the siren song of crafty politicians who tell them our society can afford to provide a non-contributory retirement scheme for all, or that we can resolve all transport and livelihood problems by buying back the shares of publicly listed companies like the Link Reit and the MTR Corporation?
Above all, the upcoming elections will test the resilience of “one country, two systems”. The underlying tensions and contradictions inherent in this unprecedented arrangement have intensified in recent years, partly due to the highly divisive debate on election of the chief executive by universal suffrage, and partly due to events which highlighted the conflict between the two systems.
After the damage to confidence arising from the missing booksellers case, the central government has tried to calm jitters by arranging for a team of high-ranking Hong Kong officials to fly to Beijing to discuss improvements to the notification system. Wang Guanya ( 王光亞 ), head of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, also offered an olive branch to pan-democratic legislators by calling them “part of the establishment”.
Recent statements by top leaders repeatedly stressed that they would not stray from the original policy intentions of “one country, two systems”. There are even signs that Beijing is making use of Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing to convey to Hong Kong people the message that it will not “hand-pick” the next chief executive.
Are these assurances enough to restore confidence and hand the pro-establishment candidates a safe margin in September? What will the people choose – legislators who will perpetuate a fractious and dysfunctional legislature, young people who tout an unrealistic “Hong Kong independence” scenario, or down-to-earth candidates who are able to come to grips with reality, and deliver change for the better?
Hong Kong’s future is in our hands, and the moment of truth will come in the morning after September 4.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People’s Party