It comes as no surprise to us that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s plans to depoliticize the district councils (DCs) and redirect their focus to community-level livelihood issues have not been well-received by critics.
By Pearl Tsang and Kacee Ting Wong
Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the Democratic Party, said the reduction of directly elected council seats was a pity. Paul Zimmerman, vice-chairman of the Southern District Council, said the proposed reforms would make it more difficult for authorities to accurately understand public opinion. Former councilor Yip Kam-lung called these reforms “regressive actions”. They should face up to our response.
First, DCs must be depoliticized because of the new circumstances. It’s a matter of grave concern that DCs had been politicized and deviated from their original roles and functions. Following the 2019 district council elections, most of the DCs became confrontational. Some district councilors even supported the advocacy of “Hong Kong independence”. What is at stake is not only the security of the city but that of the whole nation. Equally of concern is that some councilors were incompetent and failed to perform their duties.
We should dispel the myth that the proposed DC reform has a political agenda. The HKSAR government merely intends to restore DCs’ original consultative role, as stipulated in Article 97 of the Basic Law. As many people prefer simple untruths to complicated truths, the government should launch a publicity campaign to bring these constitutional constraints on politicization to the forefront of the residents. Indicative of the government’s intention to depoliticize DCs, the earlier decision to strip DCs of their membership on the Election Committee and of their influence in the Legislative Council has not escaped our attention.
Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine remind us that knowledge of the law has become a function of attitudes. They say that when we are not directly taught about what is in the law, the law becomes what we imagine it to be (The Behavioral Code: The Hidden Ways the Law Makes us Better or Worse). Obviously, the drafters of the Basic Law did not want DCs to be political organs. We should get this message understood as accurately as possible in the city.
Second, the reforms are in line with the principle of “executive-led government”, as prescribed in the specific provisions of the Basic Law. According to Maria Tam Wai-chu, one of the examples is the “Chief Executive Accountability System”, stipulated by Article 43 of the Basic Law (Department of Justice, Back to Basics (HK: DOJ, 2020)). District councilors will no longer elect their chairs. Instead, district officers (DOs) — government officials in charge of municipal-level administration — will preside over DCs, reverting to a practice last seen in the 1980s. One of the main duties of DOs is to help DCs convey residents’ views to the government. It hardly needs emphasizing these public servants are responsible to the government (Article 99 of the Basic Law).
Third, the appointment system has also attracted criticism. Under the reform plan, the government will choose 179 district councilors. To be fair, competitive elections do not often function in the idealistic way their advocates paint them. Obsessed with Western democratic dogmas, critics cannot accept that there are other alternative routes to legitimacy and good governance. If the last district council elections are any reference, we are sure that competitive elections do not ensure meritocracy. The theory of “output legitimacy” helps us to view legitimacy through a broader and more-balanced perspective.
As Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has correctly pointed out, DCs’ legitimacy is derived from what they achieve for the benefit of society. The secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, has noted that the popular-vote system overlooked professionals and patriotic candidates who were reluctant to run in elections. These people have the potential to be very helpful to the community.
We also see a strong case for introducing the appointment system in district administration. Some professionals, who are active community officers, have been serving their designated districts for many years. Equipped with professional knowledge and community-level working experience, these community officers can help deliver good governance to their respective districts. In addition to taking good care of the residents in the designated districts, a few devoted community offices have wholeheartedly exposed themselves to a great variety of community work.
Fourth, the indirect election system has prompted a flood of complaints from the critics. According to the reform plan, 176 seats will be picked by government-appointed members of three existing neighborhood committees in the districts: the District Fire Safety Committee, the District Fight Crime Committee, and the Area Committee. It’s likely that most of the active community officers will participate in the forthcoming indirect election. Along with having more knowledge of the backgrounds of these council hopefuls, the members of the three committees are also familiar with their contributions to district work. As a result of the screening mechanism, members of the three committees could recruit the best and avoid the worst.
Fifth, the new accountability system can enhance the credibility of the proposed reforms. Under the reform plan, the government will introduce an accountability system to monitor the performance of councilors. Those who fail to promote the policies as assigned by the DOs could face disciplinary probes if no reasonable excuse can be given. It’s an underappreciated risk that a popular-and-competitive vote system often lacks a formal and effective post-election accountability mechanism. The shake-up will fill in these accountability gaps.
Finally, the nomination system will ensure only patriots run Hong Kong. Those seeking indirect or direct election must secure at least three nominations from each of the three committees and pass a national security vetting process. The nomination system brings the overhaul into complete harmony with the need to safeguard national security.
Pearl Tsang is chairwoman of Hong Kong Ample Love Society and co-director of district administration of the Chinese Dream Think Tank.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, and chairman of the Chinese Dream Think Tank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.
Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.
持不同意見人士對特區政府進行的區議會非政治化、重點回歸社區民生問題的計劃，沒有表示太大歡迎，筆者認為這不足為奇。民主黨主席羅健熙先生對政府大幅度減少區議會直選席位表示遺憾。南區區議會現任副主席司馬文先生表示：有關計劃「比預期的更糟糕」(worse than expected)。他補充道，有關計劃將使政府更難準確地瞭解民意。前區議員葉錦龍先生認為，這些計劃是「倒退行動」(regressive actions)(註1)。請聽咱們細細道來。
有見特區政府進行區議會非政治化，筆者注意到，特區政府應考慮盡早解除區議會在《選舉委員會》的成員資格及其在立法層面的影響力。劉本(Benjamin van Rooij)與亞當·法恩(Adam Fine)提醒大家，當人們不是通過直接學習過程取得法律知識時，每個人想像中的規矩就是法律，法律知識會淪為態度的啟動功能(註2)。顯然，《特區基本法》起草前輩們沒想過把區議會納入政權組成架構。大家應在特區內儘可能準確地理解這一個「原意」(第97條)。
第三，根據計劃，政府將任命179名區議員，這項「任命制度」事項成為了火力集中點。公平起見，「競爭性選舉」(Competitive Elections)的結果輸出往往與其擁護者所描繪的願景相距著十萬八千里。沉迷於「盎格魯-撒克遜民主框架」 (Anglo-Saxon Democratic Dogma)人士們不能接受其他通往合法性與善治途徑形成的選舉替代方式。有見即將舉行的區議會選舉，筆者確信「競爭性選舉」並不能確保精英政治。正如本專欄的另一位合著筆者早前指出，大家可以通過『合法性產出』(註5)來擴展咱們的視角，為選舉合法性問題富於更廣泛與更平衡的色調。
正如特首李生正確指出，各區議會的合法性來源在於它們集體為社會利益而取得的成績。 又如「政制及內地事務局」局長曾國衞先生補充說，普選制度忽視了作事相對背動的專業人士與愛國參選人。 這些人有潛力、有能力與有魄力為居民服務。
最後，提名制度將確保只有愛國者才能管理特區事務。尋求間選或直選的參選人人需取得「三會」各3個提名，即合共 9 個提名，並通過國家安全審查程序。提名制度使「新」區議會與維護國家安全的需要無縫銜接，達致一致性。
註 1: Kahon Chan「Hong Kong voters not being punished by plan to revamp district councils and cut directly elected seats, home affairs minister says」”In a statement posted on social media by ex-councillor Sam Yip Kam-lung, the group said the proposed changes were “not only regressive actions but also desecrations of the universal values cherished by the people of Hong Kong”.” SCMP 03.05.2023 available at: https://amp.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3219214/hong-kong-voters-not-being-punished-plan-revamp-district-councils-and-cut-directly-elected-seats
註 2: Benjamin van Rooij & Adam Fine「The Behavioral Code: The Hidden Ways the Law Makes us Better or Worse」 Boston: Beacon Press, 2021 at p 143
註 3: DOJ「Back to Basics」Hong Kong 2020 at p 256 “Not only that, an executive-led political system is contemplated in the specific provisions of the Basic Law, to be specific, in the power of the Chief Executive under Article 43 that provides the Chief Executive accountability system.” available at: https://www.doj.gov.hk/en/publications/pdf/Basic_Law_30th_Anniversary_Legal_Summit_Proceedings.pdf
註 4: 《特區基本法》第99(2)條: 「公務人員必須盡忠職守，對香港特別行政區政府負責。」
註 5: 何君堯、丁煌 「『合法性產出』理論解釋香港新選舉制度中『國家安全』的設計」 堅料網 20.09.2021 available at: https://n.kinliu.hk/kinliunviews/%e3%80%8c%e5%90%88%e6%b3%95%e6%80%a7%e7%94%a2%e5%87%ba%e3%80%8d%e7%90%86%e8%ab%96%e8%a7%a3%e9%87%8b%e9%a6%99%e6%b8%af%e6%96%b0%e9%81%b8%e8%88%89%e5%88%b6%e5%ba%a6%e4%b8%ad%e3%80%8c%e5%9c%8b%e5%ae%b6/