CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Choosing who to vote for in the coming legislative election

HONG KONG (SE): The fifth Legislative Council (LegCo) election is just around the corner. On September 9, three million people will have the opportunity to cast a vote for their preferred candidate.

But will the one they choose support people’s rights and will they give a voice to the working class of Hong Kong?

As in any election campaign, candidates will try anything to win a vote. They vow that they will fight for this right and that with beautiful rhetoric espousing nothing but empty promises.

Whether they belong to a political party or run on a non-partisan ticket, every candidate more or less does the same thing.

Listening to their speeches or reading the promotional pamphlets they distribute shows how few actually have any solid policy platform on how to deal with the issues they bring up.

What you will not hear is how many promises they have made in the past that have actually been fulfilled.

The records of the past four years in the LegCo reveal that many legislators did an about turn on the very issues they had campaigned for.

The legislation on the minimum wage that came into effect in May last year is a good example, as during debate on the motion, under the pretext of promoting the overall good of the Hong Kong people, many of the members spoke more as a representative of an employer’s association than of the population at large.

They became prophets of doom, elaborating on the difficult time employers would face if a minimum wage was implemented.

They predicted wholesale failure of businesses and widespread job losses, claiming their crystal balls warned them of extreme economic depression.

Some representatives from the labour sector vowed in front of the cameras that they would do their best to fight for the workers, but behind the scenes made deals with the government, settling for the final $28 an hour wage now contained in the legislation, instead of the $33 family wage that workers had fought for all along.

Sadly, they sold their labour constituents down the sink to the business sector, leaving employers with the big say in dictating labour conditions.

In a democratic state, the judiciary, administration and legislature are separate from each other. The government carries out the day-to-day administration and enacts legislation.

The judiciary provides guiding principles to the administration. The legislative council keeps a check on the administration and passes and proposes legislation.

As representatives elected by their constituents, legislators should never disregard the moral law or constitutional provisions, nor act in any manner contrary to the common good.

Unfortunately, in Hong Kong, the LegCo can be controlled by one group: the representatives from the functional (industry-based) constituencies, who are not elected by the people.

This control is the result of the makeup of the LegCo, as in practice, a motion or a bill must get a majority vote from each of the two sections in the LegCo: members returned by the functional constituencies and those from the geographical constituencies, who are elected, in order to pass.

As most members of the functional constituencies represent business or commercial sectors, they find it hard to resist the solicitations of the vested interests that put them into the LegCo in the first place.

As long as the government can secure a majority vote in the functional constituencies, it can safely ensure that any bill proposed by the LegCo that does not the favour the government can be defeated on the floor.

No wonder many bills that speak for workers’ rights never see the light of day.

As a result, millions of workers are still subject to the exploitation of employers, because the law cannot protect their rights.

A decent minimum wage level with standardised working hours, paternity leave, retirement benefits for all are, along with many other rights that are standard practice in many western countries, still lacking in Hong Kong.

These rights are human rights that all workers should be entitled to. Workers and their families depend on them in order to develop their lives in a full and healthy environment.

Anyone tramping the hustings to woo votes for a seat in the LegCo should have to listen to the voice of the workers.

As Christians, our vocation is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5: 13-15).

Not only should we fulfill our civic responsibility by casting a vote, we should also work to influence those who seek to represent us.

Before giving anyone our vote, we should scrutinise their policy platform and ask whether it is for the common good (for the benefit of each and every individual) or not.

We should judge for ourselves if they have the sincerity to fulfill the promises they make. We can examine the voting history of incumbent legislators and look at their record.

Even after the election, we can continue to supervise them. We can write letters of constructive criticism, rally if they are not doing what is just or openly chastise them and desert them.

This is the only means we have of ensuring that legislators fight for our rights and push for a just and humane society for all.

Pray to God that the candidates who do make it on election day will be filled with wisdom and humanity, that they may listen to the voices of the people, the common people, particularly the working class, which can benefit from their representation.

May we all be able to live in a dignified and humane society that truly reflects the goodness, beauty and love of God.


Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs

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