Key body that picks Hong Kong leader formed, paving way for 'conducive' politics

Officials opening a ballot box after the Election Committee Subsector Ordinary Elections in Hong Kong, on Sept 19, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - The powerful body that picks the Hong Kong chief executive and nearly half of parliament has been formed, a move some observers said would pave the way for a "conducive" political environment in the territory.

There was a lengthy eight-hour delay in the counting of votes for the 364 members of the influential Election Committee, accounting for nearly a quarter of the 1,500-strong body.

The remaining seats were already decided before polling day on Sunday (Sept 19), either because they were uncontested, appointed, or ex-officio positions. Another 52 seats will be filled after the Legislative Council (Legco) election in December.

The turnout of 4,380 eligible voters was nearly 90 per cent for 13 sectors. In all, 412 people had contested the poll.

The new Election Committee will begin its five-year term on Oct 22.

Speaking to the media early Monday , Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Barnabas Fung Wah apologised after it took nearly 14 hours to count the 4,380 ballots.

He said initial findings showed that there were human errors, judgement errors with front-line staff, jamming of the machine counting the ballots and problems with the ballot verification papers.

This is the first election in Hong Kong since an electoral reform law was passed in late May by an overwhelming majority in the Legco which is dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers.

The passage of the bill came after Beijing in March initiated a revamp to the city's electoral system to allow a pro-China panel to vet and elect candidates to ensure only "patriots" can rule Hong Kong.

Only one of two opposition-leaning candidates won on Sunday.

Mr Tik Chi Yuen, chair of the centrist Third Side party who ran in the competitive social welfare sector for one of 12 seats, made it through. But independent Francis Chau, who also ran in the same sector, lost.

Hong Kong is now in a transitional stage, politically, Mr Lau Siu Kai, the vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said in response to an observation that few patriotic centrists or moderates won on Sunday.

Many of the old opposition figures have been too radicalised and so they do not qualify as patriots, he said.

"I expect new moderate opposition figures who can meet the minimal criteria of a patriot to appear in the future and take part in the elections.

"We have to bear in mind that with the entry of new political forces and interests in the patriotic camp, it will become more diversified. Groupthink is inconceivable," he added.

Dr Henry Ho, founder and chairman of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum, told ST that he thinks it too premature for one to say the system rejected moderates or opposition-leaning candidates.

"First of all, only very few opposition candidates were disqualified in the election and the results merely reflect the preferences of the voters.

"More importantly, some democrats such as Democratic Party have not decided whether to run in the upcoming Legco elections. I think we should wait till the December Legco elections and see how many opposition candidates are able to secure enough nominations and finally win a seat," said Dr Ho.

In 2016, the race recorded 246,000 registered voters but Sunday's election only had 4,380 ballots cast. This drew comments on how it was a race among a "small circle".

But Dr Ho countered that representation was not measured by the number of voters, but by the "broadness" of industries, sectors and strata.

This time, he said, there were representatives from Hong Kong people in the mainland, Chinese enterprises, grassroots, as well as women and youth organisations.

The new committee had shown significant improvements in this sense, in particular, the proportion or influence of the business sector has been reduced, added Dr Ho.

He said the institutional design and the focus of this election and upcoming ones had shifted from the debate on universal suffrage to balanced participation, with the political culture improving greatly from confrontational to consensual.

"This would provide a conducive environment for the government to introduce bold reforms to tackle deep-seated problems and encourage more young political talents," Dr Ho said.

Mr Lau believes that Beijing's overhaul of the city's electoral system has little to do with democratic development, at least at this stage of Hong Kong's political development.

He thinks the new committee will allow the central government to hold the Hong Kong government accountable for its governance and push it to bring about institutional and policy reforms that are desperately needed to tackle the city's major developmental and social problems.

Hong Kong has two more elections to go in the coming months - the one for Legco in December and the race for chief executive in March.

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