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New electoral system affirms another halls of power


Editor's note: This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:選舉改制確立第二權力中心) 

With nomination of the Legislative Council (LegCo) election closed in the previous week, candidates, who are vetted for political allegiance, are now cleared to run. Some of them are from traditional pro-establishment parties, many trained by the Liaison Office (including some who lost in the previous poll), and a few politicians with previous links to pro-democracy camp, and veterans from previously refrained from elections. The overall picture is clear: the Liaison Office has full control over the allocation of tickets. It has now formally affirmed its alternative centre of power, with its political influence may one day outgrow that of the SAR Government.

After the political surgery to “improve” the electoral system, major players from the opposition, pan-democrats and the localists were screened out. Those who can survive the vetting in the name of national security will be pro-establishment leaning figures that Beijing felt comfortable with. The Liaison Office has been heavily involved in coordinating the list of candidates. In particular, the 40 out of 90 seats are only picked by 1500 members from the small circle of Election Committee. Some may wonder: what is the point of an election? Why not just appoint someone, or run a mainland style election that returns same number of candidates to vacancies?

Indeed, this is an “election” that Beijing's leaders know and can manipulate before results are returned. It’s not intended to paint a rosy picture about democratic values, but to reinstate a political order Beijing endorsed and to reassert Beijing’s comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong. The latter was Beijing’s basic policy directive laid down in the 2014 white paper on One Country, Two Systems. http://www.scio.gov.cn/zfbps/ndhf/2014/Document/1373163/1373163.htm 

In previous elections where pan-democrats still occupied at least one-third of the seats in Legco and captured at least halved the votes in direction elections in geographical constituency, the liaison office faced much pressure politically on uncertain outcome, even risk taking the blame from the Central Government in case of a defeat. The Liaison Office had to use every possible means to to influence the results, including Chief Executive and officials’ power to lobby and influence various functional constituencies, and relatively respected figures to draw supports from moderate voters in direct elections.

Now, the rules have have changed. The Liaison Office has already predicted about the low turnout next month, since the pan-democratic voters would be uninterested, where the proportion of blank votes and invalid votes may increase. Pro-establishment supporters and the Liaison Office’s decision will affect how the votes are splitter among the bloc. As for functional and EC constituencies, it was a 100% certainty under the office’s grand plan. In the new situation, it was not about winning already, but to rationalise the interests among the pro-establishment camp and to maintain liaison offices political control over the candidates and the elected candidates.

In previous elections, popularly elected loyalists would still have to fight their way through, despite being blessed by Bejing’s Liaison Office. They still play a certain role in the political discourse. After this “election”, these pro-establishment figures should come to realise that each seat is only “bestowed upon them by Beijing” where they must fall in line when the Liaison Office commands so. Public sentiment or chances for re-election are no excuse anymore.

The LegCo may become Liaison Office’s execution organ that saw virtually little resistance to swaying bills and fundings, or to see support from interest groups. Reservations expressed by bureaucrats in bureaux will no longer stand in its way. All it takes was for most lawmakers to make similar call altogether, and senior officials will have to concede. Liaison office now sees unparalleled political status and influence since the handover. The alternative centre of power was in fact to ensure all officials and lawmakers will become subserviently completely!

The office’s modus operandi also served as some training within the pro-establishment camp. As observers will note, all constituencies, from direct elections to functional constituencies or Election Committee sectors are “contested”. It strikingly resembles the contested yet small-circle election in National People's Congress. On one hand it saved friendly candidates from embarrassment from losing, while it allowed introduced limited degree of competition that those candidates not in the circle of trust will have to up their game.

After this “election”, Hong Kong’s political landscape will see a dramatic paradigm shift. Be prepared, SAR officials. The elected lawmakers serve masters from another halls of power.