In Hong Kong, Votes Don’t Count – But Polls Do

With less than two weeks to go before the polling for a new Chief Executive (CE) for Hong Kong, the papers are rife with stories about candidates and the sitting CE. Yet in a country without universal suffrage, the closest citizens can get to the election process is through newspaper coverage and opinion polls.

This is the first election under new rules.  As a result of a constitutional reform in 2010, the Election Committee that is responsible for choosing our next leader has been expanded from 800 to 1,200 members.  The reform represents an incremental step towards a CE election by universal suffrage in 2017 according to  a decision by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in 2007.  This year’s election is also significant in a sense that the CE elected on 25 March will be tasked with development of transition plans, or the so-called “road map”, to fully democratize the election processes in Hong Kong.

It is widely acknowledged that, as part of the “road map”, Beijing allowed three high-profile candidates to enter the race with an understanding that one would easily triumph. It’s purported the “one” was Henry Tang.

For over a month now Tang has been the subject of intense scrutiny. His extra-marital affair, his unauthorised dwelling modifications and even an illegitimate child have all been splayed across the newspapers. It’s apparently been a shock to Beijing as no one anticipated the widespread “American style” politicking. (Note to Anthony Wiener – your text messages are so last year.)

Just as Tang suffered early media investigation, this week the attention has turned to CY Leung. Today’s South China Morning Post features a rural leader had set up a crucial dinner between Leung’s election office staff and “controversial business man” Kwok Wing-hung – aka “Shanghai Boy” – who is reported to be a triad leader.

So far we have investigative journalism. We have candidates embroiled in scandal. We have no clear victor. And we haven’t gotten to a vote yet. Sounding like the USA Republican Primaries?

What is most worrying is that the candidates may make themselves unelectable. Yet the Election Committee will gather to select one on 25 March. And if Hong Kong doesn’t care for the selected CE there is no doubt mass protests will ensue. It’s the best way Hong Kongers have of expressing political discontent. Of course that will go down a bomb in Beijing!

By 2017 Hong Kong will be ready to elect their next leader. Until then they are experiencing many of the facets of modern politics. Even messy democracy is still democracy.

Seeking new resident - must be able to implement universal suffrage by 2017.

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