Why, year after year, Hong Kong’s legislative elections offer few candidates worth voting for

Peter Kammerer says our political system so limits the lawmaking ability of our legislators that it’s no wonder some voters choose to elect banana-throwers and independence-seekers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 7:17pm

Politics and controversy are never far apart in Hong Kong. Matters that were once taken for granted, like the chief executive’s appointment of members to university councils, are now perceived as deeply political. Even an issue as seemingly straightforward as enlarging the Medical Council so that there is greater independent regulation of the profession can be viewed sceptically. If your stance is that every government decision is less in the interests of our city than to support a particular position or policy, then it’s not difficult to find what would appear to be convincing evidence.

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Every other week it seems another such case arises. There have been dark mutterings all month about resignations of senior investigators from the Independent Commission Against Corruption and speculation that they were involved in a possible probe of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s contentious deal with Australian engineering firm UGL. But by the end of last week, that scandal had been eclipsed by a new one.

It involves the Electoral Affairs Commission’s order that potential candidates in the upcoming Legislative Council election are required to declare that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. If they don’t sign such a pledge on the nomination form, they will be disqualified from standing in the September 4 polls.

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This is controversial for several reasons, most obviously that Beijing and the government have been making an extraordinary fuss about the emergence of localist and independence movements. Not only does the Basic Law and local legislation say nothing about the political stance of those standing for election, but the commission also claims to be independent.

Understandably, the pro-democracy camp is alleging that the commission is being dictated to by the government. All manner of legal wrangling awaits – and that’s only going to raise the heat of what promises to be the most interesting Legco election yet. Old faces like Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and Emily Lau Wai-hing are making way for fresh candidates. But it’s those candidates espousing upheaval – like a Hong Kong apart from the rest of China – that promise curiosity. Stopping such people from contesting office isn’t in the spirit of a Hong Kong that claims to allow freedom of expression and diversity.

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An independent Hong Kong is not a viable option. But I can understand those with a mischievous streak would make such a choice. Self-interest rather than working for the best interests of our city seems to govern legislators’ decisions. Half of the 70 members of Legco represent functional constituencies and all they are concerned about are the narrow interests of their members. Look at the time-wasting of the medical sector’s lawmaker over the government’s reform plan to get an idea. The same applies far too often to those in the pro-government and pro-democracy camps.

Behind all this, of course, is the reality that Legco members are the opposition. The government makes policy and drafts the legislation and Legco is meant to discuss, debate and approve. Voting for a candidate doesn’t necessarily mean that matters of vital concern to the community are going to get dealt with. If it’s not on the government’s agenda, it may be all but ignored.

That’s justification for some voters to choose lawmakers who are banana-throwers, time-wasters and, yes, even independence-seekers. I can understand why the quality of candidates coming forward is generally pathetically low. And here I make my confession: it’s the reason I have not in my 28 years in Hong Kong bothered to register to vote.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post