Concerning the 2016 Legislative Council election, the surge of interest among the population was quite remarkable, with voter turnout reaching more than 2.2 million or 58 percent of the eligible voters, a record high number since Hong Kong returned to China.
The pro-establishment camp now holds 41 out of the 70 seats in LegCo, the “pan-democratic” camp occupies 22, and the “localist” faction has snatched seven seats. The era of these three political camps sharing power in LegCo will start from Oct 1.
Hong Kong’s political landscape has changed overnight and may be entering into a somewhat unchartered realm for years to come. The changes in the distribution of LegCo seats as a consequence of this election will not only have a direct impact on the future operations of LegCo itself but also directly or indirectly on the governance of Hong Kong, and of course the central government’s policy on the Hong Kong SAR.
The pro-establishment lawmakers are staunch supporters of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy. The “pan-democrats” also support “One Country” but may have different demands on how to implement the “Two Systems”. In the past, when the pro-establishment lawmakers reached agreement on a bill, they would hold discussions with the “pan-democratic” moderates to seek their acceptance of the proposed legislation. However, the “localists” and radicals seem intent on keeping a distance from the central government, disparaging of the pro-establishment camp, lukewarm about working with the “pan-democrats”, and challenging the principles of the Basic Law and “One Country, Two Systems”. It seems obvious that in future the pro-establishment lawmakers will have to do a lot of explaining, arguing and even cajoling to get their support. Furthermore, because of ideological and strategic differences, it is likely that such communications may not go smoothly. And if unsuccessful, when those bills reach the stage of being debated in LegCo, they will likely be held up as a result of political deadlock.
The goal of parliamentary politics is to engage in sharing power and interests, and this can only be achieved by means of intelligent and flexible compromise. It is not yet clear whether the incoming “localist” lawmakers will continue to preach self-determination or “Hong Kong independence” as an option for Hong Kong’s future. Let’s hope that once they settle into their role as lawmakers, they will soon realize that Hong Kong can move ahead only by taking on board the mainland factor in a positive manner. If they don’t, it will reflect badly on our economy and social harmony.
It is worth noting that when the LegCo election results were announced on Sept 5, the Xinhua News Agency immediately quoted a spokesperson of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council as warning: “We firmly oppose any activity relating to Hong Kong independence in any form, inside or outside the Legislative Council, and firmly support the Hong Kong government to impose punishment in accordance with the law.”
The central and Hong Kong governments should draw a clear red line to bar the spread of “Hong Kong independence” ideology not just in LegCo but also across Hong Kong society, including in schools. In the event of a future large-scale protest movement over national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity or any other controversial issue, this red line might be deemed to have been crossed in Beijing’s view.
The three political camps should draw some important lessons from the election:
First, the pro-establishment camp lost two seats, but basically still holds a majority and so should be able to retain a measure of control. If it can maintain unity and tries to broaden its support base, it will wield the greatest parliamentary influence.
Next, the “pan-democratic” camp lost four seats. In future, it would be wiser for them not to collaborate with the “localists” in pursuit of the latter’s extremist political objectives. They will achieve more by collaborating with the pro-establishment camp and acting in accordance with the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”. Cooperation between these two groups offers the prospect of stabilizing our society and resolving some of Hong Kong’s most pressing problems.
Finally, the “localist” faction should abandon disruptive and confrontational politics in the streets and inside the LegCo chamber. The public has shown its disapproval of obstructionist and abusive behavior inside our august chamber by voting out those legislators known for such disruptive conduct. As the smallest of the three camps, the localists would be wise to cooperate with the other two dominant camps. They may soon learn that “One Country, Two Systems” and the Basic Law are in fact the best guarantees of Hong Kong people’s interests. Ultimately, the future success of Hong Kong rests in large measure on the shoulders of these young lawmakers and others of their generation. They need to realize good things do not come easily. They usually come from sensible decisions and hard work, and not showy political theatre.
The author is an independent scholar and freelance writer. She is also the founder and president of the China-US Friendship Exchange Inc.