Elections Hong Kong
Elections in Hong Kong: What choice do the people have?

Wahlurne in HK
Ein neues weitreichendes Gesetz hat das Wahlrecht der Hongkonger drastisch eingeschränkt. © picture alliance / abaca | James May/ABACA

On 19 December, HK is electing a new legislative council. This is the election that should have taken place in 2020, and that was postponed amid claims of pandemic concerns. Since then, a new election law has been passed – and people in HK have less of a choice than ever. Freiheit.org interviewed MR Charles Mok, a former LegCo Councillor, about this upcoming election, what it means for HK and where the city is going from here.

freiheit.org: Mr Mok, you were a member of LegCo for several years. How will this newly elected LegCo be different from the LegCo you served in?

Charles Mok: When I served in the Legco between 2012-2020, we had 70 legislators, half of whom (35) were elected from geographical constituency (GC), on a proportional representation basis, and the other half (35) were from various functional constituencies (FC). Among this 35, 30 of them would be the so-called “traditional” FCs, representing professionals such as accountants, doctors, teachers, lawyers, IT workers, etc, as well as business chambers and various industries such as tourism, transportation, etc. Five of the 35 functional constituency seats were the so-called “super district council” seats, who were district councillors nominated and elected by all of the rest of the Hong Kong citizens who did not already hold a traditional FC vote.
Many in Hong Kong have always believed that functional constituency seats are less democratic and should, according to people’s understanding of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution since the handover in 1997, FCs should be eventually removed and the whole Legco should be directly elected, with every citizen having an equal voting weight.

Now, the Legco is expanded to 90 seats, with only 20 of them directly elected from the geographical district, a reduction of 15 seats (i.e. >42.9%) from before. The 30 traditional FCs remain, but some of them (such as for IT, doctors and nurses) underwent drastic reduction of voter base and limitations of voter eligibility. And then, a newly created Election Committee (EC) constituency was formed with a whooping 40 seats, and they will be simply elected by a Beijing-controlled group of only 1,500 EC members.

The control does not stop here. Candidates must receive a number of nominations from among the Election Committee members, meaning that the EC essentially has a veto power over candidacies. On top of that, a Candidate Eligibility Review Committee was set up to vet and approve all candidates based on criteria including national security consideration. And their decisions are final and not up for any challenge, administratively or by the court.

freiheit.org:  In the running up to this election, some candidates were arrested  for holding pre-elections, and a new voting right was introduced in HK. How much of a choice do HKers still have in this election?

Charles Mok: In all previous Legco elections in Hong Kong, ever since there was direct elections held, the pro-democracy camp has won the majority of the geographical constituency, before and after the handover, up until the last Legco election in 2016. This time, all of those pro-democracy candidates who tried to run in the cancelled election in 2020 are no longer candidates. Many of them were among those arrested, detained and awaiting trials. ]]]

For an average citizen in Hong Kong, the number of seats they can vote for and the number of candidates to choose from are both greatly reduced, not to mention that most of those who used to receive the most votes and won the most seats simply cannot run anymore.

freiheit.org: This election is under the slogan “Patriots only”. What does this mean, and who is a patriot under this definition?

Charles Mok: One of the biggest problems with such a system is that Candidate Eligibility Review Committee is largely opaque and lacks any due process of appeal. In this sense, one can only take it that only those that the Beijing regime considers to be acceptable politically would be considered “patriotic” enough.

freiheit.org: In democracy theory, an elected government is deemed legitimate because the majority of people that has the right to vote has voted for them. How would you assess the legitimacy of the LegCo that will be elected this Sunday?

Charles Mok: In addition to getting the majority of the votes of the people who have the right to vote, it is as important to have a system where the right to stand as candidates and the right to be elected are also guaranteed and not arbitrarily or overly limited.

It is of course also important that the voting weight of each citizen be equal, and not for some people — by virtue of being a member of either the EC (1,500 voters for 40 seats!) or FC (30 seats) — to have a much larger voting power, and hence a much large representation, than an average citizen who has only one single vote for one of the 20 GC seats, the smallest block in the new Legco of 90 seats.
If we believe that a primary function of the legislature is to monitor the administration, then it would be ludicrous to have the administration control the candidacy and hence the outcomes of the legislature.

freiheit.org: In your opinion, how does the new election law fit with the freedoms guaranteed in HK’s Basic Law?

Charles Mok: Article 68 of the Hong Kong Basic Law states: “The method for forming the Legislative Council shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the election of all the members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage.”

The government would argue that the current arrangement is just what Hong Kong needs “in light of the actual situation”. However, it is quite clearly not “gradual and orderly progress” toward more democracy and universal suffrage, but rather going in reverse.