The Pan-Democrats and the Chief Executive Election in Hong Kong

This blog post appeared in the Chinese-language Shiu Shiu (recommended at InMediaHK).  I have made an (unauthorized) translation in the interest of introducing Chinese-language blogs to English-language readers on a subject of common interest:

The sudden resignation of Tung Chee-hwa was very much unexpected in political circles, and caused the pan-democratic camp to suddenly lose the target to struggle against and therefore leaving them at sea.  The dilemma faced by the pan-democratic camp is whether they should have someone to participate in the election for the new Chief Executive.  At first, it was said that the highly popular Audrey Eu would participate, but she has now stated that she will not do so.  Then Emily Lau came out and expressed an interest.  After that, all sorts of other people are coming out.  Actually, it is most peculiar for Emily Lau to come out since she has always boycotted the "small circle"-form of election such as the electoral committee and functional constituencies.  The election for the Chief Executive is the most extreme form of "small-circle" election, so why is she interested instead?

I neither support nor object to whether Emily Lau or the pan-democratic camp changed their principles with respect to participating in this election.  But anyone who wants to compete should pay attention to two points.  First, he/she must have a reasonable case that clearly explains how things are different now such that this major change of course is required, and this had better convince his/her supporters.  Next, he/she must answer the question: in this election, since no pan-democratic candidate has any chance of being elected (not to say getting the 100 votes to be nominated), so why participate?  What is the purpose?  I believe that the most typical answer is that participation in this small-circle election will highlight the absurdity of this election system.

How can this highlight its absurdity?  Why does particpation in the election highlight its absurdity?  He/she must be able to accomplish the following:

Prior to the formal nomination, all the pan-democratic candidates must offer political platforms that differentiate themselves from the incumbent.  Then the entire pan-democratic camp must mobilize enough people to hold many forums so that these candidates can communicate their political platforms to the people.

Then, they will elect a representative for the pan-democratic camp through a primary election system.  By asking the citizens to participate in the primary election, this will establish that the eventual candidate has considerable public support.  The next step is to fight for the 100 nominating votes, and then engage Donald Tsang in debates at public forums about policies and broad social issues.

This candidate must be able defeat Donald Tsang at these forums, such that his/her popular support exceeds that of Donald Tsang.  If during the actual election, this candidate loses to Donald Tsang by a huge ratio, then this will highlight the absurdity of the election system.

Conversely, if the policy platform of the pan-democratic candidate was a cut-and-paste job of shopworn clichés, the citizens may lean more towards Donald Tsang as a result of those forums and also indicated by public opinion polls.  Then if the election outcome should correspond to the public opinion polls, this will only highlight the rationality of the election system.

Thus, anyone who intends to participate in the election had better look within himself/herself to see if he/she has the ability to do just that and make his/her decision accordingly.  In my humble opinion, I think many people are only interested in getting the exposure in preparation for the 2007 election and may have no idea what they are doing now, and this will lead to negative consequences for the future of democracy in Hong Kong.

What this post highlights is that there is a series of hurdles for the pan-democratic camp if some of them choose to particpate.  Failure at any step will highlight ... the failure of the entire pan-democratic camp.  If an ill-prepared and weak candidate gets manhandled by Donald Tsang as being ill-qualified and unpopular, it may be taken to represent the entire pan-democratic camp.  But if not this time, they will have to face up to it sooner or later anyway.  Far better to identify the requirements as quickly as possible and work on them.

When I study this list of hurdles, I can classify them into two types.  The first type is within the control of the potential candidates.  So far, the candidates seem to be drawn from the existing pool of legislative councilors (e.g. Emily Lau, Audrey Eu, Ronny Tong, Albert Cheng, etc).  The criteria for running as a legislative councilor as an opposition member who has oversight over the government is completely different from running as a chief executive.  It is no longer possible to use Albert Cheng's favorite quote: "I am in the opposition.  I have no policy platorm, because I don't need any."  Any respectable candidate ought to be able to assemble a thinktank of advisors to come up with a creative and consistent political platform.  He/she cannot say "Vote for me because I support democracy" because those are hollow words.  There has to be some substance in what he/she will do if and when elected.  The second type of hurdles is not within the control of the potential candidates.  What if they held a primary election and only a few thousand people (out of 3.2 million registered voters) cast votes?  Isn't that another example of "small-circle" voting with zero credibility?  Clearly, this depends on having magnetic candidates with appealing platforms to get the primary vote out.