Opposition should help ensure safe, fair polls|Comment HK|chinadaily.com.cn

Opposition should help ensure safe, fair polls

Updated: 2019-11-14 07:42

(HK Edition)

While the city on Nov 24 is going to hold the District Council elections, the first since the outbreak of the anti-government movement in June, the previous weeks have seen the level and intensity of violence significantly escalated, casting serious doubt as to whether the polling can be held as scheduled.

There are different views on the issue. Some say that under the current circumstances, it is difficult to maintain fair and safe conditions for the elections, while others think that it would be inappropriate to postpone it. In response, the government has set up a Crisis Management Committee to handle crises related to the elections. For instance, if there are riots, violence, or any danger to public safety, the Electoral Affairs Commission will recommend to the chief executive that the government postpone the polling.

The critical question is not whether the poll can go ahead as scheduled, but, with all the street violence in the city, whether a fair and safe election can be guaranteed.

Most of us would not deny the importance of democracy, especially in the modern political world. The core of democracy is an institutionalized system that can ensure that candidates and voters can participate in a fair and safe environment. This institutionalized process is not granted but protected by a series of conditions. Larry Diamond, a notable scholar of democracy theory, puts forward in his book In Search of Democracy that democracy is not just elections but also a basket of “democracy qualities”, including the rule of law, participation, competition, accountability, freedom, equality, and response. The quality of democracy is more important than the election itself as, without the former, the democracy system will be very fragile.

Specifically, we can look at the Democracy Index, which was developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit to measure the degree of democracy. Among the five categories of indicators, “Electoral process and pluralism” is the first. And two of the criteria, “Can citizens cast their vote free of significant threats to their security from state or non-state bodies?” and “Do laws provide for broadly equal campaigning opportunities?”, are under threat in this election. It is noteworthy that the past criticisms about the quality of democracy were mainly directed at government actions, but this time the responsibility lies with the opposition.

The negative impact brought by the radical protesters on the quality of democracy is obvious. However, the “non-severance” principle adopted by the opposition since the onset of the anti-government movement in June is the greatest political resource of the front-line rioters. Due to that principle and discourse set by the opposition, their supporters, those “rationalists”, take different attitudes (support, understanding, acceptance) and provide support for the radical protesters. Actually, those radical actions did help to put great pressure on the government and create a lot of favorable conditions for the opposition at the beginning of the movement. However, the situation spun out of control later, and the “rationalists” lost the political energy to rein in the radicals. The critical juncture occurred when the government responded to one of the five major demands – withdrawal of the extradition bill. The opposition failed to take the opportunity to regain the initiative and conduct peaceful negotiations. Instead, they allowed the situation to further escalate – their most serious misjudgment of the whole game.

Indeed, the main battlefield of the opposition has always been the councils, not the streets. The coming election is a good opportunity for its turnaround, and it is expected, with all their smear campaigns against the SAR government, the police and the pro-establishment camp, they might be able to reverse the political powerlessness of recent years. However, the destructive nature of radical protesters is contrary to the stability of democracy.

When the opposition decided to cooperate with radical protesters, they were destined to become the biggest losers. In the past, the opposition tended to criticize and monitor the government’s practice of democracy, but now it is ironic to see them destroying the existing democratic quality in Hong Kong they have claimed to be upholding. “Some battles you win, some battles you lose.” The most important thing is to understand what we win and what we lose. Hong Kong’s democracy is facing the most severe setbacks. All those who support democratic elections should uphold the basic principles to ensure a fair and safe election.

(HK Edition 11/14/2019 page7)

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