The stakes have never been higher in this Legco election

In these most unsettled of times, there is every reason for voters to go out and make a difference

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 8:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 8:47pm

T

he city goes to the polls today amid arguably the most unsettling times since the handover. People’s satisfaction with the government and the legislature is in the doldrums.There have been more doubts about the way “one country, two systems” is implemented. The prevailing mood is so dispiriting that there is every reason for voters to try and make a difference. .

Coming after the Occupy protests and the failed universal suffrage reform two years ago, the battles for the 35 Legislative Council seats in the five geographical constituencies have attracted a record number of 84 lists of candidates. There are another nine lists for the five “super-seats” in a citywide ballot. Competition in some trade-based functional constituencies is equally fierce. This is probably why the polls are overshadowed by allegations of irregularities and interference and by fears of chaos. It is imperative to keep the electoral process clean, smooth and violence-free.

Explained: how Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has evolved

What makes the fray even more politically charged is the rise of pro-independence forces. The government has already sparked controversy by barring some pro-independence youngsters from standing. Whether it may backfire remains unclear. But the outcome has become more unpredictable.

The challenge arising from pro-independence aspirants is as much for Beijing and the local government as for the pan-democrat camp. The ballot is essentially a litmus test for people’s support for breaking away from China – a notion that is against the Basic Law but that is seemingly gaining momentum. The focus is also on whether the pan-democrats can win enough seats to keep the executive arm in check. Against the backdrop of the Occupy protests and the unpopular filibustering tactics, maintaining the critical opposition threshold in the 70-seat assembly has never been more difficult. Some less popular pan-democrat candidates have already abandoned canvassing in the hope of consolidating support for their allies.

The prospects for the pro-establishment camp are no clearer. Like their rivals, the government-friendly factions are also struggling to minimise clashes while passing the baton to new blood. Strained Beijing-Hong Kong relations in recent years and flagging government popularity are putting their strong canvassing machinery to the test. The new Legco straddles the tenure of the present and the next chief executive. With governance becoming more difficult and an array of challenges lying ahead, the stakes have never been higher. Whether the city can change for the better in the next four years and beyond depends on how you vote today.