Hong Kong by-elections are more than just the results
By avoiding polling arrangements that would fuel political tensions, the new administration has ensured a fair fight for seats of disqualified lawmakers
By-elections are not uncommon. We have had five of them at the Legislative Council level since the transfer of sovereignty, and even more at the lower level. What sets the coming Legco by-elections apart is not just the controversies that have led to them being held. The way they are conducted is as important as the polling results.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has repeatedly assured that her government would not make “small gestures”, referring to the suggestion that the ballots for the six vacancies arising from the oath-taking saga last year might be delayed and held in one go to lessen the chance of the pan-democrats winning back all the seats. Last Thursday, the Electoral Affairs Commission announced the polling date, March 11, for four seats, effectively quashing concerns that it might opt for arrangements that would give the establishment camp an advantage. Polling for the remaining two seats is expected to be held separately after the relevant legal proceedings have ended.
Unlike previous by-elections that were triggered by the death, resignation or imprisonment of individual lawmakers, the coming polls are the aftermath of Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law and push by the previous government to disqualify six pro-democracy lawmakers for failing to take their oaths of office lawfully last October. The new administration, to its credit, has avoided polling arrangements that would otherwise fuel further political tension.
The decision has, unsurprisingly, upset the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which branded the separate by-elections as a waste of public money. While cost is important, public perception is no less so. Now that legal disputes over four of the six seats have been settled, it is only fair for the government to hold by-elections as soon as practicable to allow the legislature to play its role to the fullest. We urge eligible aspirants to come forward and stage fair and clean elections under the law.
The outcome of the March ballots has far-reaching implications for the city’s governance and political landscape. To what extent the balance of power in Legco may be affected will be closely watched.