Monday, May 17, 2010

Giving Democracy a Bad Name

Yesterday's Legislative Council by-elections in Hong Kong have - like the recent British general election - given no one what they wanted. With voter turnout around 17%, the pan-democrats did not get the overwhelming public show of demand for a faster pace to democracy that they hoped for. However the government, despite a bizarre campaign of dissuasion surely unprecedented in any territory that allows free voting - and which Martin Lee rightly said would make them look stupid in the eyes of the world - still saw more than half a million voters turn out to re-elect the five resigned legislators by massive margins. This is in spite of obstacles deliberately placed in the way of many voters, including forcing some to travel long distances to remote polling stations.

With the decision by the DAB and Liberal Party ("under orders" according to Allen Lee - he didn't need to say from whom) not to contest the elections misguidedly engineered by some pan-democrats as a supposed "referendum on democracy", the exercise began to look distinctly futile early on. Once nominations closed, a look at the list of declared candidates made the elections appear even more farcical. With the major parties stepping aside, the field was wide open for an array of attention grabbers, self-publicists and total nutters (one wanted to abolish the ICAC to save public money), and that is exactly what we got. For once the South China Morning Post was right about something in calling them "fringe candidates" (8 April).

A look at their declared occupations is interesting - though two of them don't appear to be occupied with anything, suggesting they may have joined the election simply for lack of anything better to do with their time. The five pan-democrats standing for re-election variously described themselves as Barrister, Resigned Legislative Council Member, Senior Counsel, District Councillor, and Advocate for De facto referendum. That last one is Leung Kwok-Hung, who also gives Long Hair as his alias. Another familiar alias is Bus Uncle, standing in Hong Kong Island. When not starring on YouTube, it appears that he is a Merchant.

Then we have a few students, including the ubiquitous Crystal Chow, without whom no student protest would be complete; an Engineer II (doesn't it seem rather odd to give his grading?); a Government Pensioner (presumably this means a retired civil servant); and a Web Commentator - is this an up-market term for blogger?

Then there is serial attention-seeker Pamela Pak, or as it turns out her name is officially spelled, Peck, who describes herself as a Media Personality. "I didn't know Personality was a job," said my wife, who is clearly not au fait with the Age of Celebrity. When I was young, "famous for being famous" was a derisive description, but these days it seems to be everyone's ambition. Peck's main election platform appeared to be a deep personal dislike of the abrasive Raymond "Mad Dog" Wong. Perhaps she also fancied spending more time with her equally attention-hungry partner Paul "Superman" Tse, who curiously represents the Tourism Constituency in LegCo despite being a lawyer by profession.

Apart from being uncertain how to spell her surname, Pak or Peck has a past criminal conviction for tax evasion, which would have put her in good company alongside LegCo member Chim Pui Chung, convicted of conspiracy to forge documents - apparently a minor peccadillo in the eyes of his Financial Services constituents. Could there be a better argument against Functional Constituencies than Chim's presence in LegCo? Remember these people oversee the spending of our money.

Fortunately foghorn-voiced singer and TV chef Maria Cordeiro did not make good on her threat to stand in NT East, but among the candidates there clamouring for my support were one who describes himself as an Idea Marketing Director (who buys ideas, I wonder?) He was running on behalf of something called the Non Violence Social Movement, which sounds promising until you find out that his idea of violence is the recent goings on in LegCo, so a more apt name would be the Politer Politics Party. If he really thinks that the odd bout of verbal rudeness and an occasional irritating outbreak of banana throwing amount to violence, I will be happy to educate him on what political violence really is by dressing him in my Aung San Suu Kyi T-shirt from Amnesty International and buying him a one-way ticket to Burma (I doubt he'll be coming back soon). Alternatively he could just try roaming the streets of Bangkok tomorrow in a red shirt. The occasional rude remark in LegCo doesn't even compare to the more rambunctious Australian Parliament, where verbal abuse is elevated to an art form, or the frequent fisticuffs in Taiwan's legislature.

Anyway, my problem was - I didn't want to vote for Long Hair, whom I feel has not done a good job as a legislator - indeed I suspect his party's antics only reinforce China's fear of giving full democracy to Hong Kong. So how could I send a message to the Government that I want a faster path to full democracy without voting for any of these clowns? Isn't it time that all ballot papers carried an additional option: "None of the Above"?

According to ATV News, there were about 19,000 spoiled ballot papers in this election, a remarkably high figure if correct, though I can't find confirmation of this figure on the government's websites, which have played down the election to the extent that it doesn't even rate a headline on the main government site despite being clearly the most significant political event of the moment. This suggests that many others found the same solution that I did.

1 comment:

Private Beach said...

I received an anonymous comment on the reposted version of this post, which I'd already deleted, saying that "108,927 people in New Territories East do think Leung Kwok Hung is doing a good job".

This is of course faulty logic. Those 108,927 people presumably include some who do think that. They may also include some who think he is the least bad of the candidates on offer - many people cast their vote on a "lesser of two or more evils" basis - and probably on this occasion many who don't particularly like him but believe that voting for him will send a message to the Hong Kong government that they disagree with its tortoise-like path to democracy.

Voting is a comparative exercise, which often means in practice selecting the least bad option rather than being positively enthusiastic about any of the candidates. There is also tactical voting, where people vote not for the candidate they prefer, but for the one most likely to defeat the candidate they dislike most.

For all these reasons, one cannot assume that everyone who votes for a candidate thinks he's doing a good job.