A view of Hong Kong commercial and residential buildings from Victoria Peak. A Legislative Council less constrained by real-estate vested interests, for example, will better serve Hong Kong residents. Photo: Sun Yeung
Bernard Chan
Bernard Chan

Hong Kong electoral reform a timely cure for Legislative Council paralysis

  • Taxpayers should welcome the revamp, which will broaden representation in a legislature previously dominated by special interest groups representing their industry or district. The upgrade should result in more efficient decision-making in the government

“This is clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of the political system.” This sentence was spoken, not by a member of Hong Kong’s opposition, but rather, by US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell about the Democrats’ sweeping election reform bill at a rules committee hearing.

The fact of the matter is that from time to time, in every country, rules need recalibrating and readjusting to accommodate the changing economic structure, technological advances and the ever-evolving landscape of human progress. In fact, every 10 years, the United States undergoes a congressional redistricting process to redraw electoral district boundaries.

Hong Kong has been in the grip of political divisiveness and paralysis in the Legislative Council for the past couple of years. Few could argue that an opposition filibuster of the election of Legco’s House Committee chairperson at 17 meetings in six months was a good use of Hongkongers’ tax dollars.
The resulting gridlock meant that 14 bills and 89 pieces of subsidiary legislation were held up, including many which would affect Hong Kong residents’ livelihoods, from increasing maternity leave to passing the budget.

Not addressing this misallocation of our hard-earned tax dollars would be negligent of any government in any country. Perhaps an electoral revamp in Hong Kong is both desirable and overdue, if an untenable legislative standstill is to be remedied, order is to be restored, and governance is to be improved for the benefit of the public.

As it happens, millions in the city agreed, signing a petition in support of electoral advancement.


China’s top legislative body passes sweeping Hong Kong electoral reforms

China’s top legislative body passes sweeping Hong Kong electoral reforms
The aim of Hong Kong’s electoral reform is to enhance and strengthen governance and to broaden representation in government. The Election Committee will be enlarged from 1,200 to 1,500 members, with a fifth sector to be added. The Legislative Council will also be expanded from 70 to 90 members, and the functional and geographic constituencies will be augmented by an extra constituency.

Legco was previously dominated by special interest groups either representing their industry or district. The added constituency comprising of members returned by the Election Committee will in practice widen representation to create an inclusive base representing many walks of society.

This will help to diminish vested interest groups’ hold on Legco and bring a greater balance to the voices that are heard.

Why Hong Kong’s electoral reform is happening at breakneck speed

As an example, it may now be easier to solve the seemingly intractable housing issue because Legco will no longer be constrained by real-estate vested interests or “not in my backyard” groups. To embrace a more democratic system, the way in which members are to be elected in geographic constituencies will also be modified.

Each of the 10 districts will return two members by popular vote. This means that the top two candidates who get the most votes will be elected.

The previous proportional representation system had weaknesses in that it led to fragmentation of political parties and proliferation of candidates seeking to game the system. For instance, six seats in the Kowloon West constituency in 2016 were contested by 15 groups of candidates – 37 candidates in all – with one legislator being elected with just 20,643 votes.

Thus, the popular vote is more straightforward and a better reflection of the will of the people.

There has been some concern over how dissenting voices can be heard in government. The central government and Hong Kong are unwaveringly committed to welcoming candidates of all political persuasions and backgrounds to serve the special administrative region, as long as they uphold the precepts central to Hong Kong: the Basic Law, the country’s constitution and “one country, two systems”.

The principle of Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong endures, allowing anyone who wishes to serve to join in tackling Hong Kong’s issues. It would, however, be incumbent upon those who are elected to remember the old adage “With great power comes great responsibility”.

All in all, the electoral system upgrade should result in better and more efficient decision-making in the government, allowing more progressive government action for the greater good whilst giving the public a better return on their tax dollars.

The challenge lies in realising the potential of the reform – how do we get a broad spectrum of qualified candidates who can represent different views of society to step up and contribute? I encourage anyone who wishes to serve and support the betterment of Hong Kong to step up and participate.

Bernard Chan is convenor of Hong Kong’s Executive Council