The Hong Kong CE Election

If your reading is with the South China Morning Post, then you may be getting a radically different reading about the July 10 Chief Executive election than, say, a reader of the Chinese-language middle-class Sing Tao Daily.  It is not for me to tell you what is right or wrong, but I think that I will do a service by contrasting the divergent angles of coverage.

This Associated Press report appeared in the South China Morning Post, attributed to Min Lee:

It looks like a real political campaign. The front-runner quits his job to stump full time. He sets up a campaign office. Newspapers fill their front pages with headlines about major figures endorsing him.  But scratch away the thin veneer of electioneering, and the event looks like a political charade disguising the fact that there’s no real contest. Everyone expects Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to win the July 10 three-way race because he’s widely believed to have the blessing of Hong Kong’s real ruler: Beijing. 

“The bottom line is, all you can do is laugh about it,” said opposition lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing. “The whole thing is a show.”  “In reality there is just one candidate,” Ms Lau said. 


Bold headlines have announced endorsements from business leaders and officials, as if they’ll have a big effect on his election chances.  Then there are his weak opponents — opposition lawmaker Lee Wing-tat and legislator Chim Pui-chung, an ex-convict. Neither is expected to get the 100 nominations needed to get on the ballot.

Polls have also consistently shown Mr Tsang as the public’s favourite candidate.  

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai noted the irony of the improbable candidates — Mr Lee and Mr Chim — holding public events while the expected victor, Mr Tsang, keeps a low profile.  “Everything is absurd,” he said.  “There is no real election. There is no real competition. The entity that can do the most in the election is not any candidate, but the central Chinese government,” said Law. “What we are doing in Hong Kong is formality.”  Mr Law said citizens are victims of the highly controlled process. “Hong Kong people are most affected by this election, but now they are the most marginalized,” he said. 

What is the contrarian view, as represented in Sing Tao and other Chinese-language sources?  The key can be found in that one paragraph in SCMP:

Polls have also consistently shown Mr Tsang as the public’s favourite candidate.

On Page A2 of the May 31, 2005 of Sing Tao, there are the opinion poll results from the study conducted by the Asian Pacific Research Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  One of the questions was about the ideal Chief Executive candidate for the survey respondents.  Here are the survey results:

81%: Donald Tsang
  8%: Anson Chan (declared to be not a CE candidate)
  2%: Arthur Lee (Department of Education head; declared to be not a CE candidate)
  2%: Lee Wing-tat (Democratic Party candidate; a declared candidate)
  1%: Henry Tang (Financial Secretary candidate; declared not to be a CE candidate)
  1%: Chim Pui-chung (independent legislator; a declared candidate).

Please be mindful that the survey respondents can pick anyone that they want -- whether they are declared candidates or even declared non-candidates.

Meanwhile, on May 26, 2005, the Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong released its results on acting Chief Executive Donald Tsang before he resigned to run in the election for the new Chief Executive:

74%: Vote of confidence on Donald Tsang as acting CE
  9%: Vote of no confidence on Donald Tsang as acting CE

If there is a story to be written about, it should not be about the Beijing influence.  If Beijing has enough influence to get those kinds of popular ratings, Tung Chee-hwa would never have left.  The real story should be about just why the pan-democratic camp is unable to produce anyone (declared candidate or not) who can run against the Donald.  This cries out for discussion!  The democrats had better find an answer if they want a future.

The next story appeared in South Morning China Morning Post on May 31, credited to Gary Cheung:

Indications emerged yesterday that mainland officials are quietly putting pressure on maverick legislator Chim Pui-chung over his chief executive candidacy.  Sources said Beijing's top representative in Hong Kong, Gao Siren, had met Mr Chim to "inquire about his election platform". Mr Chim confirmed that he had met senior mainland officials in Hong Kong. 


The sources said Mr Gao had a dinner meeting with Mr Chim two weeks ago, just after the legislator declared his candidacy.  Mr Gao also asked Mr Chim how he would govern Hong Kong if he was elected chief executive, the sources said, adding that the central government's liaison office chief did not ask the prospective candidate to drop his bid.

Again, this begs the question as to why Beijing needs to strong-arm someone with less than 1% support.

The next story appeared in South China Morning Post on May 31, credited to Jimmy Cheung:

Democrats have accused the government of being unfair and irrational after it raised doubts about the eligibility of some Election Committee members to vote and said it was up to individual members to seek legal advice.  Their attack came after some of the 30 members affected said they might abstain from nominating candidates or voting to avoid the risk of a legal challenge to the chief executive election. 


Democrat Cheung Man-kwong said it was unfair to put the legal burden on the voters. "They are just exercising their own right to vote but have to do that at their own risk. The government has steered clear of the problem and shirked its duty," he said.

Sing Tao had the completely opposite view of the vulnerabilities.  This election is a foregone conclusion given the immense popularity of Donald Tsang vis-à-vis the other two declared candidates.  Democratic Party's Albert Ho was identified as the person as being ready to legally challenge via judicial reviews any Election Committee members whose eligibility is subject to any doubt (e.g. the individual might have changed jobs so that they no longer belong to the original functional sector).  Donald Tsang does not need these 30 votes, but the fear was that the entire election process could be derailed by the challenge, leading to a constitutional crisis (to wit, a new Chief Executive must be in place within six months of the resignation of the previous one but but the judicial reviews may stall the process past the six months). 

For most electors, the clearest path is to abstain (unless they want to test if they can derail the process!).  It is not even an issue of taking Albert Ho's word that he won't make unreasonable legal challenges, because any number of show-offs will step in at the very last minute to grab the headlines, as the Link REIT debacle demonstrated.

The next story appeared in South China Morning Post on May 31, credited to Ambrose Leung and Jimmy Cheung:

Nineteen pro-democracy legislators nominated Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat to run for chief executive yesterday.  ... "I am happy and am enjoying the process," he said.  He blamed interference from Beijing for the wavering support for his candidacy among the 36 electors from the social welfare sector.

On the matter of the social welfare sector, there are 36 electors representing 13,000 to 14,000 social welfare workers.  Lee Wing-tat would like all 36 to vote the same way.  How will 36 people decide together on their own?  That does not sound very democratic.  So the idea was that they should conduct an opinion poll and vote collectively for the candidate who polls better than 50%.  However, only 8,000 to 9,000 of the social welfare workers can be contacted for polling purposes, so the remainder would be disenfranchised.  That is why some of those electors are reluctant to go along with this scheme, especially if their constituencies are not being polled.  So far, 14 agreed to abide by the scheme, 6 said that they will use the survey results for advice and 16 have not agreed.

For the past few days, Sing Tao has been running a scare story.  The point was that the rules for the election of the Chief Executive state that in the event that any nominee should be incapacitated (as in death, illness, disappearance, etc), then the entire election will have to be delayed.  This is a huge problem because the Chief Executive election is scheduled to be held on July 10 for the 800-person Election Committee whose term expires on July 13.  If the election cannot take place by July 13, then a new Election Committee must be formed and it is unclear from the law just how it will be formed because the relevant legislation has not been enacted yet.

Thus, Sing Tao has been running this scare story that Lee Wing-tat would aim to persuade enough electors (note: the magic threshold is 100 out of 800) to nominate him and then derail the election by becoming 'incapacitated' so as to throw Hong Kong into utter chaos.  Even if Lee Wing-tat promises that he won't do that, it won't stop a third party from hitting him over the head with a hammer or some such to incapacitate him (see The Standard as well).

These electors are supposed to cast two votes.  The first one is for the nomination, and their preferences will be publicly revealed.  The second one is for the actual election, and that vote is secret  Therefore, Lee Wing-tat has been suggesting that the electors can cast their votes in two ways: for the nomination, they can cast the vote for Lee Wing-tat so that he can achieve the 100 threshold to become an actual candidate for the sake of having an election with more than one candidate.  In the final round, the electors can then vote for the best candidate in their minds without being publicly embarrassed for voting for the lesser person.  That is the substance of Lee's current argument, which is criticized by people in his own camp for conceding that he will be a big loser in the final round (as indeed he ought to be if the poll results are to be believed).

Sing Tao is running the scare story to suggest that a vote for Lee Wing-tat in the nomination round will lead to utter chaos.  In fact, the Sing Tao commentator asserted that 100 votes for Lee Wing-tat means a 2,000 point drop in the Hangseng Index for the stock market.  Thus, the electors must vote for Donald Tsang to shut all the others out in the name of stability and harmony.

Sing Tao has another tack, which says that a 1.7% popular support ought to translate into 13 votes out of 800 electors.  So why is Lee Wing-tat hoping to reach 100 votes (or 12.5%) unless the electors are acting dishonestly and against public opinion?  And if the Lee Wing-tat voters have to do look into their own hearts, do they seriously think that Lee is the better person as Chief Executive?  And if people start to vote for strategic or tactical reasons other than for the best candidate, this is the end of the democratic process and all that it is supposed to stand for.

Addendum (Oriental Daily):  On June 5, the medical/health sector announced its own survey results.  More than 10,000 survey questionnaires had been sent out, but only more than a thousand were filled and sent in.  More than 70% agreed that there should be more than one person in the election.  Donald Tsang was supported by nearly 40% of the respondents, and Lee Wing-tat by 1%.  These survey results are not binding on the twenty electors from this sector, but will serve only as advice.