Thursday, March 1, 2012

Will Hong Kong Chief Executive Election Be Stillborn?

Will Hong Kong Chief Executive Election Be Stillborn?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
March 1, 2012

Summary: The Chief Executive Election has led to chaos in Hong Kong. But the Hong Kong public has been given the opportunity to experience democracy. Will this produce a more suitable candidate? That depends on whether Beijing and the Election Committee are willing to listen to the public.

Full Text below:

The deadline for the Hong Kong Chief Executive nominations was yesterday. Three candidates are running. The main event is a duel between between Henry Tang Ying Yen and Leung Chun-ying. The Beijing authorities and wealthy Hong Kong businessmen prefer Henry Tang. But a stream of scandals and verbal gaffes have seriously undermined his campaign. They have also made the election results difficult to predict.

The CCP initially adopted a hands-off attitude toward the election. It was willing to accept either Henry Tang, who represented the wealthy, or Leung Chun-ying, who represented the middle class and professionals. Who knew that endless partisan bickering would reveal dirt on both candidates? Henry Tang had several extramarital affairs. His luxury mansion included an illegal and palatial subterranean addition. Leung Chun-ying meanwhile, failed to come clean on conflicts of interest in the West Kowloon District Planning Project. Both candidates' morality and ethics provoked controversy in Hong Kong, and cast doubt on the outcome of the election.

In terms of political strength, the candidate who commands the most Election Committee votes is Henry Tang. He received 80 more votes than Leung Chun-ying. He received 200 more votes than Hong Kong Pan-democracy Camp candidate Albert Ho Chun-yan. But Henry Tang's scandals, in particular the illegal subterranean addition to his home, have inspired public revulsion. As a result, his public support now hovers at 18%. He lags far behind Leung Chun-ying, at 50%. Both candidates are controversial. But the eyes of the Hong Kong public, Henry Tang is the one who does not deserve to lead Hong Kong. The voices demanding that he withdraw from the race are loud and clear. By contrast, Leung Chun-ying, who has many years of administrative experience, is considered more trustworthy by the Hong Kong public.

But public opinion does not determine who will win. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong is indirectly elected. Although there are seven million people in Hong Kong, only the 1200 members of the Election Committee get to elect the Chief Executive. Leung Chun-ying may have the support of the general public. But wealthy businessmen in Hong Kong do not trust him. They think he has anti-business leanings. The wealthy remain the most influential group within the Election Committee. If entrepreneurs do not change their attitude, or the CCP fails to intervene, Leung Chun-ying will find it difficult to win more than half the votes and get elected Chief Executive.

This reveals serious problems with Hong Kong's Chief Executive election system. It departs from reality and public opinion. The Election Committee has increased the number of committee members and the number of groups it represents. But basically it still reflects the interests of a tiny elite. It remains far removed from social reality and public opinion. As a result, a few days ago, public demands that Henry Tang withdraw from the race grew louder. News emerged that Henry Tang supporters would cast blank ballots. They would rather the March election be declared invalid, than allow Leung Chun-ying to be elected. They would then back a new candidate in May. As we can see, the indirect Chief Executive Election system itself is a major source of social and political conflict. It must be changed.

Will the end of the month Chief Executive Election really be stillborn? We will have to wait and see. Given Henry Tang's current standing, if he is re-elected by a landslide, the Hong Kong public will be outraged. Furthermore, given his words, deeds, and public manner, he would probably find it difficult to lead. He would be dogged by scandal. He would sow discord among the Hong Kong public. He would even increase public dissatisfaction with Beijing in Hong Kong. As a result, Hong Kongers have concluded that if the election is stillborn and a second election held, it would afford Hong Kongers an opportunity to rethink their choice of candidates. This might not be a bad thing.

From another perspective, if Election Committee members representing the wealthy shut out Leung Chun-ying by deliberately casting blank ballots, they might pay an unexpectedly high price. First of all, the elections could get ugly. The Hong Kong public would conclude that Election Committee members care only about their own interests, and care nothing about the larger interests of society. Secondly, if the election is not handled well, the Hong Kong Pan-democracy camp could achieve "critical minority" status, even before the second round of voting. This is not something the CCP wants to see. Thirdly, if the election is stillborn, outsiders may conclude that Hong Kong is out of control. They may conclude that the CCP is incapable of even overseeing the election of a special administrator. The renomination process could be chaotic.

The Hong Kong Chief Executive Election has evolved into what it is today, both by accident and by necessity. The by accident part is how the candidate preferred by Beijing was unable to withstand scrutiny. He had feet of clay. Clearly the CCP failed to vet its candidates carefully, At the very least it was a poor judge of character. The by necessity part is that in moving toward democracy, opening old wounds and exposing new scandals is the norm. All segments of society will be more critical regarding their political choices. Unqualified candidates will no longer be able to keep their dirty secrets.

The Chief Executive Election has led to chaos in Hong Kong. But the Hong Kong public has been given the opportunity to experience democracy. Will this produce a more suitable candidate? That depends on whether Beijing and the Election Committee are willing to listen to the public.

2012.03.01 01:37 am










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