Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hong Kong election

Sophie is still speechless over the BIG JUMP in the salary of Singapore ministers. She has taken a vow of silence for another day.

In the meantime, let Uncle Cheng do the talking, not about Singapore but about the recent election in Hong Kong. Hong Kong may not have such highly paid government officials compared to Singapore but universal suffrage is still an alien concept in the special administrative region of China.

By Uncle Cheng

Last Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day weather wise if nothing else. It also happened to be election day and it obviously came as no surprise that our Chief Executive (Xinhua Photo: Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang Yam Kuen waves hands in Hong Kong, south China, March 25, 2007) was elected by a large margin. Indeed, it would have been a massive shock to the system if the result had been otherwise.

Like most of Hong Kong’s population I watched the electioneering process during the past few weeks. Even though the eventual result was totally predictable, I believe this election marks a very healthy and pivotal stage in Hong Kong’s constitutional development. As one impartial observer remarked to me, this first-ever semi-contested election has demonstrated just what a fully contested election might be like. It was like a maiden flight of a new aeroplane to demonstrate its airworthiness.

The big question in my mind remains where in the world can you find a truly contested election where the result is totally unpredictable? Unexpected election results are exceedingly rare events. Perhaps the presidential election in the United States that brought George Bush to power counts as an unexpected result in the sense that, after weeks of delay and procrastination, it was not the people of the United States who made the final decision but the nine judges of the Supreme Court of the United States — none of whom is democratically elected.

Those nine justices are in fact appointed by Presidents and it is common knowledge that Republican Presidents usually nominate Republican judges and Democratic Presidents choose fellow Democrats.

Returning to Asia I find it hard to recall any election in recent years which has delivered an unexpected result. Wherever opinion polls are used election results become even more predictable because opinion polls have become a highly refined science able to predict both voter turnout and voting intentions with scientific accuracy. You could even argue that opinion polls could replace actual elections!

Hong Kong’s election last Sunday fits into this pattern. Everyone knew what the election result was going to be. It was simply impossible for Donald Tsang to be denied victory. Why then all the fuss from the democratic camp that the election was a farce? The democrats make it sound as if the result surprised them.

For myself I see the election very differently. It was a part, an important part as well, in the process of Hong Kong’s constitutional development. I did not witness anything farcical or surprising. The results was predictable as any elections anywhere. Like all elections the result was known beforehand.

Of course, the true basis of the bitter democratic condemnation of the election is disappointment that universal suffrage is taking such a long time to arrive. Democratic campaigners are disappointed that they could not stand as candidates at the election, but where were their voices before 1st July 1997?

The big question is whether this exercise in political predictability was good or bad for democratic development. Was Alan Leong's quixotic challenge a sign of progress? Were the more extreme democrats right to scorn what they called Leong's hopeless candidacy?

It was interesting that the protest march by the Civil Human Rights Front could only muster less than 5,000 supporters. Universal suffrage hardly seems to be a burning issue for Hong Kong's citizens. Perhaps the population at large take the sensible view that the existing system has served Hong Kong well. Society and the economy are in a good condition.

I also suspect that the public have been pleasantly surprised by Donald Tsang electioneering performance --- "Bow Tie versus Pocket Square". Increasingly, as the weeks went by the Chief Executive appeared more and more in charge of his brief and confident.

A fully democratic election under universal suffrage would have returned the same result!

The truth is Hong Kong constitutional system remains a work in progress. Stay tuned!

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