Opinion: The Hong Kong government must not ignore election results

Opinion: The Hong Kong government must not ignore election results

Chief Executive Carrie Lam's speech following the city's historic vote was inadequate and potentially dangerous

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (centre) meets the media before attending the Executive Council Meeting at the Central Government Offices in Tamar.
Photo: SCMP / Robert Ng

The recent elections in Hong Kong sent a clear message to the government and to Chief Executive Carrie Lam: we are not happy with you. In an election that saw record voter turnout, 85 per cent of District Council seats went to pro-democracy candidates, a massive 50 percentage point swing. In the wake of this historic election, Carrie Lam responded by offering the pro-democracy voters … nothing. In her post-election speech, Lam refused to offer any tangible concessions, only vaguely stating that she will “seriously reflect on these views expressed” by the public.  

Such a response to the biggest election in Hong Kong’s history was inadequate, and potentially dangerous. By refusing to offer any concessions, Lam has shown that the government sees the concerns of the electorate as being ignorable. They see the views of the people as an annoyance rather than a clear directive.  

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Fundamentally, Lam and the other politicians of the Hong Kong government seem to have forgotten the key operating principal of the democratic system. In a democracy, the state relies on the consent of the governed, meaning that that government’s legitimacy is only justified when consented to by the people the government is ruling over.

As of October, Lam’s popularity rating had dropped to a record low of 20.2 points. Combined with the results of the election, the prevailing opinion of the governed is clear: no to pro-Beijing politics, and no to Carrie Lam, and yet the Hong Kong government still pursues this path without pause.

To best see the absurdity of this situation, an analogy might be helpful. Like a democratic government, the purpose of a restaurant is to serve its patrons. Now imagine that when asked, 80 per cent of diners disapproved of the main chef. Upon receiving mounds of negative feedback, the restaurant insults the customers leaving the feedback and does nothing to change their service. Luckily, if such restaurant really existed, it would quickly go out of business, and the patrons could seek out another establishment. However, when it comes to the government, there is no such option. There is only one Hong Kong, and leaving is simply not possible for many Hongkongers.    

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This is why it is crucial for Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government to listen to the voters and offer up real concessions. If not, the governed will rightly feel like their voice is being ignored. And if the population truly believes that nothing can be achieved through peaceful voting, there will be nothing left but violence, and as we have seen the last few months, violence is a terrible last resort.

The people of Hong Kong still believe in democracy, and they should. The government must honor the voice of the electorate, who have decisively rebuked their pro-China stance. If the government of Hong Kong has any respect for the ideal of democracy, and their role as representatives of the people, they would offer concessions to the pro-democracy camp. If voting is to mean anything at all in Hong Kong, this must be the case.

The Hong Kong that I know and love is a peaceful city, and a democratic city. In order for peace to be maintained, so must democracy. For the government of Hong Kong, the choice is now in their hands.

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