A pedestrian passes a large promotional poster for the 2023 district council elections, at Tsim Sha Tsui Pier on November 1. Centrists and the opposition have been all but frozen out of the upcoming election, leading to fears of reduced political diversity and representation. Photo: Jelly Tse
Alice Wu
Alice Wu

Even with election safeguards, why does John Lee still not trust voters?

  • The chief executive said during his policy address he has faith in the people, but the actions of his government tell a different story
  • Stripping power from district councils, cutting directly elected seats and barring the opposition from running don’t appear to be enough
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said in his most recent policy address that he has “faith in you, the people of Hong Kong”. Call me negative, but I don’t think he does.
This is evident in the fact that no opposition or centrist candidates received sufficient nominations to run in the upcoming district council elections, for which the nomination period ended last Monday. Even Michael Tien Puk-sun’s Roundtable group had a hard time securing enough. Tien’s group had hoped to field five candidates in the direct election, but only one received enough endorsements.

Maybe Lee just doesn’t have faith in politicians? To his credit, not many do – and that appears to be the case across the globe.

But the problem is that Lee is also a politician. He has political power as the city’s chief executive, so it has to be more than that. Is it that Lee is suffering from a crisis of faith in the very system he has been instrumental in putting in place?

National security laws are already in place, with more to come; Lee promised to complete the legislative exercise for enacting national security laws, as stipulated by Article 23 of the Basic Law, by next year. After stripping any real power from the district councils, why is there not enough faith in a revamped electoral system that has more than enough safeguards against non-patriotic forces?

Lee said himself that the law on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong had addressed the “near-vacuum of national security laws for [Hong Kong]”. And the improved electoral system “safeguards the HKSAR’s governance system. Hong Kong is back on the path to progress.”

If all else fails, the reduction of directly elected seats for the district councils from 95 per cent to just 19 per cent ensures that should a few token non-patriots accidentally get nominated and win, they would have very little influence. But that is still not enough for Lee – and, by extension, Beijing – to leave it to voters to do the right thing.
They are not leaving anything to chance. In other words, there is no room for “faith” in the equation, not even in the patriots to win the patriots’ game. This is perhaps because the experience of the 2019 district council elections – when the pro-democracy and localist camps tripled their number of seats and gained clear majorities in 17 of the 18 councils at the time – is still fresh in the minds of those in power.

How much time needs to pass before those elections can be forgiven and forgotten? Would the completion of Article 23 legislation next year do the trick?

It comes down to the lack of faith in voters themselves. This then raises the question of how we can convince those in power that we can be trusted. What will it take? Do we need to pass a patriotic exam before qualifying as a voter? Or should we attend education seminars and rack up enough hours to qualify?


Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp reeling after crushing defeat in district council elections

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp reeling after crushing defeat in district council elections
It would seem that it’s not just those who failed to secure nominations who need to reflect, as Lee suggested. Residents also have plenty to think about.

It’s a discombobulating thought. While many governments struggle with the lack of faith people have in them, Hong Kong people instead have to reflect on why the government has a crisis of faith in us.

Survey findings by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese University found that trust in the Hong Kong government grew from 24.6 per cent in July 2022 to 28.2 per cent in July 2023, while distrust dropped from 28.1 per cent to 23.8 per cent. While the trust Hongkongers have in the city government is not going down, there is no telling where we stand with those in charge.

Hong Kong district council poll nominations ‘show shift towards less diversity’

The opposition is now shut out of even the district council elections and rendered irrelevant. But, for centrists who are deemed “acceptable” enough to have seats in the legislature, it boggles the mind why they are also not considered qualified to run and serve in consultative district-level bodies.

The government must look at whether the system is actually fair, just and open. It is troubling that, amid the current crisis of faith, the government still expects the people they do not trust to come out and vote.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA