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Small-circle Election in Hong Kong

Small-circle Election in Hong Kong

Mary Mee-Yin Yuen

Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor Carrie has been elected Hong Kong’s next chief executive (CE) on 26 March, 2017. However, it was not an authentic election as Lam gained only 777 votes from the 1,194-member Election Committee – around 0.03 per cent of the population – composed mostly of Beijing government’s loyalists. A former chief secretary and deputy to the existing chief executive, Lam is the fourth Hong Kong’s chief executive since the change of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997.

Unlike democratic elections in many other countries, the Hong Kong’s chief executive election has been considered as a small circle election which involved only a very small number of people. Only some of the 240,000 people from selected sectors had votes in December last year to choose a 1,200-member election committee. The committee is composed of four main sectors with representatives from the professional sector; the industrial, commercial and financial sectors; and the social services, religious and other sectors. The fourth sector includes legislative members, District Councilors, members of the Heung Yee Kuk rural group, and Hong Kong representatives to China’s decision-making bodies. The makeup of the committee has been criticized for over-representing sectors close to Beijing, whilst under-representing sections of the populace which are more pro-democratic.

Two other candidates in the CE election are the former financial secretary Tsang Chun-wah John and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. Although all three candidates are regarded as pro-establishment figures, it is widely believed that Beijing government has its own choice before the election.

The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the election had been “open, fair and orderly”, and that Lam “fitted” Beijing’s requirements for a chief executive. However, Lam was heavily rumored to be Beijing’s favored candidate over the past two months before the election though she was behind in public popularity polls. Some electors claimed that before election day they were pressured by the Hong Kong-based Chinese liasion office to vote for her.

Critics called the election result “a defeat of the people’s majority views.” Tsang was popular among the public for his more successful public relations campaign and his image of inclusivity. In spite of the small-circle election, Tsang did not merely appeal to the members of the Election Committee, he also appealed to other Hong Kong people through offering the vision of unity, trust and hope, attempting to gain popular support. Many people think that he can bring reconciliation in a splited society though they may not fully support his policy platform. This brought a new experience and standard of election campaign to Hong Kong people, in spite of the small-circle election nature. However, Tsang was said to have lacked the central government’s full trust despite his high public popularity, thus, he could not gain much support from the pro-establishment camp in the Election Committee. The election result shows the gap between the choice of Hong Kong people and members of the Election Committee, reflecting the absurdity and ridiculous of the small-circle election.

The Civil Human Rights Front, a non-governmental organization organised a rally to protest on the day before the election against Hong Kong’s small-circle leadership race. They claimed that Beijing blatantly meddled in the election. The group calls for full democracy and genuine universal suffrage.

This election is the first CE election after the Occupy Movement in 2014. On 31 August, 2014,  the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a decision that the chief executive in 2017 can be elected by one-person-one-vote, but only after a “broadly representative” nomination committee. The decision triggered a week-long class boycott, which developed into the 79-day Occupy protests demanding fully democratic elections.

This election was expected by some people to be a chance of healing the wounds of Hong Kong created in the past five-year rule of the existing chief executive C.Y. Leung and the rift among people after the Occupy protest or the so-called Umbrella Revolution. Lam is seen as inheriting the ruling strategy of Leung whereas Tsang is regarded as a person who can bring reconciliation and dialogue among people of different political stances. However, the election result brought disappointment to many people.

In the Catholic social tradition, democracy and equal political participation are highly valued and small-circle election is not preferred.  In the social encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II highlights that, “The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends (no. 46).”

Therefore, Hong Kong people should insist on the goal of striking for authentic universal suffrage and continue to cultivate a culture of democracy with relational virtues although we know that the road to democracy is a long and winding one. We must not lost hope in spite of the dim light in front of us. We need wisdom to discern how to move forward.

With low popularity, Lam has to face questions over her governance and the many challenges for the coming five years – from the rising tide of anti-mainland sentiments to skyrocketing property prices and political tensions.

It is interesting to note that Lam, as a Catholic, claimed that she stood for election because of calling from God. Although Lam was seen as a person under Beijing’s or pro-Beijing’s control, during the election campaign, she insisted that she was willing to listen to people’s opinions and became more humble. When the result of her winning came out, she said that she would try her best to unite people of various political standpoints, mending the rift and disentangling the frustration of Hong Kong people. I hope that she would keep her promise and uphold the Catholic values of common good, solidarity and subsidiarity as they are imperative in building a good society.