The Hong Kong Chief Executive Election

First, a quick summary of how it ended.

(The Globe and Mail)  Beijing loyalist clinches victory in Hong Kong.  By Geoffrey York.  June 16, 2005.

Despite his refusal to debate his opponents or face a public forum, veteran bureaucrat Donald Tsang has been chosen as Hong Kong's new leader in a tightly controlled selection process among the territory's elite.  The victory by Mr. Tsang, expected to be confirmed today by Hong Kong's electoral commission, has been carefully orchestrated by Beijing to install a loyal and popular leader in its often-restive southern enclave.

Beijing has been worried that the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong could destabilize the territory and spill over onto the mainland. It has bluntly rejected the calls for fully democratic elections within the next few years.  Pro-democracy legislator Leung Kwok-hung, known as Longhair, who protested at Mr. Tsang's campaign office, interrupted. "Shame on you, Donald Tsang," he shouted as he scuffled with security guards. "Small-circle election -- it's worse than pigs and dogs."

Mr. Tsang clinched his victory yesterday by submitting 674 nomination forms to the Hong Kong electoral commission. Those nominations, along with another 36 pledges of support, gave him an overwhelming majority of 710 votes among the 796 members of the election committee that chooses the territory's leader, known as the chief executive.  By gaining support from 710 members, Mr. Tsang made it impossible for any challenger to join the election race, since any candidate is required to collect a minimum of 100 nomination papers. His main opponent, Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat, gathered only 51 nominations. As a result, Mr. Tsang will be declared the uncontested winner, and a planned July election will be cancelled.  Tsang had made it clear that he wanted a swift knockout victory to prevent any formal challenges. He portrayed it as a kind of euthanasia to ease the suffering of the two politicians who tried to challenge him.  "It's better to relieve my rival of the pain quickly," he reportedly told a meeting of election-committee members last week.

The process of selecting Mr. Tsang was far from democratic. The 796 people who choose the chief executive are an elite group of representatives of professions and other sectors, weighted heavily in favour of pro-Beijing groups. They have little connection to the broad mass of Hong Kong's population.  Mr. Tsang refused to attend any public debates with his opponents. Democracy groups said the selection process was a sham.

And now for some fond (and not widely known) memories:

There is quite a bit of post-mortem analyses.  Was the system rigged to guarantee the outcome?  How many ways was it rigged?  What about those late-night phone calls from mainland Chinese people to pressure the electors?  Was it the Chinese navy flotillas that show up in Hong Kong harbor?  And so on and so forth.  What is missing is a little bit of introspection and soul-searching about what happened, the same thing that Chinese President Hu Jintao told former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Question: Was Donald Tsang the wrong person? ('wrong' in the sense of being against the will of the people)

In the most recent public opinion poll by HKU POP, 1,029, persons were surveyed between June 6 and 8, 2005.  The support rates were 78% for Donald Tsang, 3% for Lee Wing-tat and <1% for Chim Pui-chung.  Previously, HKU POP surveyed 1,015 persons between June 1 and 3, 2005.  In that survey, respondents were asked to assign ratings (a number between 0 and 100) to each of the three candidates, and the results were broken down by self-defined political inclination.  In Hong Kong's school system, a rating less than 50 is regarded as failure and written out in red ink.

  Donald Tsang Lee Wing-tat Chim Pui-chung
TOTAL 77.6 39.0 29.6
No preference

These support numbers are fantastic.  Even people who defined themselves as 'pro-demcracy' considered Lee Wing-tat to be failing.  So it is sour grapes at this point if you don't like the outcome.  The will of the people was satisfied, even if you didn't like the process.  And once you accept this point, you can go back and re-read the Globe and Mail article on top and recognize it for how unfair and bitter it was.

Question:  From a previous post Small Circle Electoral Politics:

In the September 2004 election for the Legislative Council, the pan-democratic camp won about 60% of the popular vote and this would indicate broad support.  So how is that the Democratic Party for the Chief Executive position has a support of 1% at this time?  Is Lee Wing-tat, the chairman of the Democratic Party, a weak candidate?  In the poll cited in the post Hong Kong By The Numbers, the support levels for the next Chief Executive were (and this is an open-ended poll in which respondents can name anyone that they want):

This is not just about Lee Wing-tat, because any other pan-democratic camp member would have received a low number as well.  This is the much larger problem for the future of the pan-democratic camp.

There are any number of similar polls.  Where is the introspection and soul-searching?  Why does the public give you a majority in the Legislative Council election but then also think that you are totally unqualified to run the government?

I argue that the priorities of the Democracy project are set in the wrong order.  Lee Wing-tat's election platform differs most significantly from Donald Tsang's in advocating direct elections in 07/08.  Donald Tsang sneers at that because Lee has no roadmap to make that happen, so this is just a lie to inflame the population.  Lee would be more convincing if there were a democrat who is qualified to become the next Chief Executive in 2007.  There is no one remotely close at this time.  The big question: WHY?  If such a democratic candidate exists, then the drive for direct elections in 2007 would be more compelling as a popular and qualified candidate would be denied otherwise.  But there is nobody now.  And how can that be changed?  Nobody wants to ask such questions because it will shake up the foundations of the democratic establishments since the parties would be forced to re-invent themselves.