Legislative Council elections 2016

Hong Kong’s lawmakers must connect with the people who voted them in

Mak Kwok Wah says legislators on both sides of the political divide should understand clearly the need for compromise and realism, in order to best reflect the will of their voters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 1:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 6:52pm

As the cheers for the winners and mourning for the losers grow faint after the Legislative Council election, it is appropriate that those who made it to their august new high office should now re-examine the way forward outside the clamour of electioneering hoopla.

Among the high-profile tripartite factions of localists, traditional democrats and those in the pro-establishment camp, the localists have managed to squeeze out quite a few veteran fellow-travellers, decimating the traditional democrats to just 35 per cent of the total. But they had little success in fighting the pro-establishment camp, which maintained about 40 per cent of the total vote, as in 2012.

The localists should know better than anyone that they owe their success not just to the question of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s re-election for a second term, but to their promotion of localism.

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The failure of Ricky Wong Wai-kay and James Tien Pei-chun is an indication of the maturity of our electorate. Wong espoused just a single message in his campaign platform – change the chief executive in the next term, while Tien has been among the first group from the pro-establishment camp jumping on the “Anyone but CY” bandwagon.

If localists cross the thin line into support for independence, they can expect a swift backlash [from voters]

The localists capitalised on many voters’ suspicions about mainland cross-jurisdictional interference in Hong Kong. They cleverly focused on the popular obsession with self-determination rather than getting too involved in the push for Hong Kong’s independence. This differentiation proved to be a winning strategy. By combining this with their other, more grass-roots friendly postures on economic and political issues, their campaign platforms struck a chord with many voters.

But the six newly elected localists need much more than campaign slogans and media stunts to succeed in Legco. The essence of localism must be the long-term interests of society. If they cross the thin line into support for independence, they can expect a swift backlash from those who voted them into the chamber. Their constituents would expect them to manoeuvre within the framework of Legco rules and regulations to effect change and find solutions to their everyday problems.

The veteran democrats suffered the heaviest setback, keeping only 13 geographical seats compared with 18 in 2012. Wong Yuk-man and Chan Wai-yip were dropped by the voters, while another, Leung Kwok-hung, barely made it, with a thin margin of about 1,000 votes. It is obvious that voters have had enough of their infantile and disruptive antics in the chamber, which not only obstructed the passing of some vitally important legislation, but made a mockery of one of the three branches of government.

Voters are offended seeing these radical lawmakers doing nothing but throw tantrums ... rather than engaging in serious debate

Voters have wised up to the damage their filibustering has caused. Some of the proposed projects up for discussion but delayed in the process will inevitably cost many millions of dollars more, due to inflation, when they are eventually given the go-ahead. In the meantime, the public is being deprived of services initiated by the administration. Voters are offended seeing these radical lawmakers, who are paid more than HK$100,000 a month, doing nothing but throw tantrums, flinging posters and various symbolic objects, rather than engaging in serious debate over important issues of public concern and suggesting solutions.

Filibustering is a legitimate means to ensure that the minority voice is heard. It is certainly not intended to be used as a tactic to obstruct the legitimate legislative process. But a few opposition lawmakers made vague accusations about the government being undemocratic to create gridlock, obstructing the passage of other important bills. Ironically, it is this same group of filibustering councillors who took away the power of the people to vote for, or against, any chief executive candidate last year.

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The pan-democrats need to do some self-reflection and see whether they can truly serve the community by cooperating with the government. C.Y. Leung wasted no time in extending an olive branch to all newly elected councillors by pledging to cooperate with them in the months to come. It’s sad to see a few of the newly elected young lawmakers immediately brushing this aside. Let’s hope that the majority of pan-democrats embrace this opportunity to achieve a greater consensus in governance in our city that has so much promise.

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The German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said: “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.” Such wise words embody the need to compromise and be realistic, which all our politicians would do well to take to heart.

If [the pro-establishment camp] are to win public support, they should realise that their role does not end with the pressing of the ‘yes’ button

Over the past four years, most in the pro-establishment camp have used their votes to support government policies on most occasions. But if they are to win public support, they should realise that their role does not end with the pressing of the “yes” button. They need to speak out at every opportunity in defence of new bills and policies.

It’s clear that, in the aftermath of Occupy Central, the public has become much more politically aware and engaged. They now expect to know the rationale behind government actions and intentions. Pro-establishment lawmakers clearly have an obligation not just to help explain government positions, but to defend them when they come in for criticism.

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It’s sad to see that less than half a dozen pro-establishment councillors in the last Legco term were willing to articulate their arguments in front of the cameras when needed. The TV screen seems to have been dominated by faces from the opposition camp.

Now that a motley new group of ambitious legislators is entering the chamber, the pro-establishment lawmakers are beholden to their constituents to speak up more vigorously and often in defence of common sense and what’s best for the public. Adversarial politics is part and parcel of democracy. But participants must speak up so that their constituents know where they really stand. They are paid handsomely to do so, and they have an obligation to be accountable to their constituents.

Mak Kwok Wah is a former assistant director in the Government Information Services