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The Economist Explains: How Hong Kong’s Version of Democracy Works

The deck may be stacked, but the results still matter.

HONG KONGERS head to the polls on September 4th to pick their representatives in what, by China’s standards, is a remarkably democratic institution: the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (Legco). When China took possession of Hong Kong from the British in 1997 it promised the territory a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. In the run-up to these elections, the first since the “umbrella revolution” protests of 2014, local newspapers have been filled with candidates who mistrust those guarantees, and by some who want to renegotiate Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. Yet it can be taken for granted that a clutch of parties supported by the government in Beijing will continue to dominate Hong Kong’s political system. How does the territory’s democratic process work?

[Read the full story here, at The Economist]

For more than 30 years Hong Kong’s political parties have been split roughly into two camps. On one side are the “pan-democrats”, who argue that only a democratic system can safeguard the civil liberties the territory enjoyed under the British (whom many of the pan-democrats opposed, before the handover). They stand against the “pro-government” or “pro-Beijing” politicians, who regard themselves as patriotic allies of their counterparts in the rest of China. They tend to say that fair elections are less important than smooth relations with the Communist Party in Beijing. The role of Legco is to debate the laws and budgets put forward by the territory’s executive branch. The institution is at least partially democratic. But only 40 of its 70 seats are elected through universal suffrage. The remaining 30 seats belong to so-called “functional constituencies”. Their legislators are chosen by groups representing different classes of professionals, business interests and rural communities. In the term just ending, the pan-democrats held 21 of the 40 seats chosen by popular vote. The functional seats, by contrast, tend to be tilted towards people keen to keep the Communist Party happy: the pro-government parties hold 24 out of 30. The arrangement of functional constituencies and their weighting against the other seats ensures that pro-Beijing parties have held a majority in every Legco since handover.

Since the protests of 2014, which began as a demand for the...(read more)

Source: The Economist

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