All around the world, governments are struggling with how to reconcile the immense power of multinational corporations with the democratic process. Hong Kong has a unique model that can be improved to best address the issue of corporate involvement in politics.
In politics, businesses or corporations are in many ways similar to individuals. Like people, businesses have to pay taxes and follow the laws of the land. Businesses, like any other entity, have their own personal interests, and therefore want to have a say in creating legislation that will directly affect them.
Hong Kong has devised a voting system that allows corporations and other specific industries to be directly represented in the Legislative Council. These “functional constituencies”, as they are known as, vote in Legco alongside representatives elected by the people. This kind of system is probably ideal for managing corporate involvement in politics. It has a number of advantages that the traditional system lacks.
Firstly, it is a fair system. The famous rallying call of the American Revolution, “taxation without representation is tyranny”, illustrates why corporate involvement is also a fundamentally correct principle in a democratic society. If an entity is bound by a law, it should have a say in the formulation of this law.
Throughout the world, corporate lobbying is largely legal and often unregulated, resulting in a lack of transparency. However, with direct representation in the legislature, corporations can openly attempt to implement their agenda without having to rely on back-door dealings.
A system similar to Hong Kong’s could be the key to bringing transparency back into the realm of corporate politics. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong government does not seem concerned with rampant lobbying, and this is the fatal flaw in the system.
Critics of capitalism would say that corporations have too much influence. The citizens have to use the ballot box to get what they want, but businesses can subvert that step and pursue their agenda via closed-door lobbying. This kind of influence is what makes the public sceptical of corporations, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
I believe giving businesses a chance to elect representatives to the legislature and criminalising lobbying is the best solution. It will allow corporations to promote their ideas democratically, and level the political playing field between citizens and businesses.
Hong Kong’s approach on this matter, while still severely flawed, shows us that there is indeed a better way to address the problem involving big money and politics.