Monday, December 03, 2007

Defeating the machine

Anson Chan's decisive victory in yesterday's LegCo by-election is the more creditable because her main opponent, Regina Ip, enjoyed the benefit of the pro-Beijing camp's powerful electoral machine. This works in three ways:

  1. the DAB uses its strong grassroots organisation at local level to get its supporters out to the polls;
  2. China-owned businesses in Hong Kong instruct all their employees to vote for Beijing's favoured candidate; and
  3. Hong Kong owners of businesses in China come under varying degrees of pressure to vote Beijing's way, with hints that failure to comply will be found out and may impede their future operations in the mainland.

Chan's victory indicates that the majority of Hong Kong people still want early democracy, but ironically it may have the opposite effect. I suspect that Beijing would feel more comfortable with letting Hong Kong people choose their own administration if they could be confident that a pro-Beijing result on the scale of that in the recent District Council elections was a near certainty.

Chan and Ip were both strong candidates: intelligent and articulate women with a long record of public service in Hong Kong and a deep inside knowledge of how the local political system works. The other six candidates were a very mixed bunch indeed: several seemed to represent the "Give Me My 15 Minutes of Fame Party", while one stood for the "Shouting Loudly in Putonghua Party", and another for the "Look at My Nice Black Silk Robe Party". The "Special Favours for the Transport Sector and Waving Big Yellow Hands Party" candidate did best, coming third.

Fourth placed Ho Loy, another intelligent and articulate female candidate, was the only minor candidate who could really be taken seriously. Standing on a single issue, heritage preservation, she never had a hope of winning, but her issue is an important one to which she succeeded in drawing more attention. The remaining female candidate, Cecilia Ling, proposed improving welfare provision for the elderly poor; however, she also opposed the introduction of a minimum wage, thereby helping to ensure that another generation would be unable to earn enough during their working lives to provide for their retirement.

I saw Anson Chan out campaigning in Causeway Bay a few weeks ago - in person, the woman is tiny! Why do public figures (Yao Ming excepted, of course) so often look much taller on television than in real life?

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