South China Morning Post, December 26, 2001



Shameful system's flaws laid bare

 
 

By Martin Lee

A sham, shame and shambles. How else can one describe the much-awaited declaration by Tung Chee-hwa of his decision to seek a second term as chief executive?

The election is a sham because it is a foregone conclusion. As Sir David Akers-Jones, former chief secretary, put it: ''The Chinese have no objection to elections, provided they know the results beforehand.'' Even a few months ago, our three top leaders, President Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji and Vice-Premier Qian Qichen, said they would support a second term for Mr Tung.

As a former member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee, I know why and how this capitalistic method of election with Chinese characteristics came about. The Beijing leaders wanted an election by Hong Kong people to confirm the candidate chosen by them.

Thus, the 800 members of the Election Committee will all be elected íV not democratically by the people of Hong Kong íV but only by some 200,000 who are privileged to have the vote. Effectively, only those people who belong to certain functional constituencies are given a vote.

Chinese leaders have no difficulty with the functional constituencies because they know that this method of election ensures them a safe majority, having carefully studied the functional constituency election results in Legislative Council polls held under British rule since 1985.

The Election Committee members are hailed as representative in that they come from all sectors of the community. But the committee is not truly representative because the great majority of the people of Hong Kong are not allowed to participate in the election of the members. So, this method of election of the chief executive is designed to be unfair and undemocratic.

But Mr Tung's administration compounded the unfairness by refraining from telling the 200,000 voters in July last year that the members of the Election Committee they were going to choose would not only be responsible for electing six members of the Legislative Council in September last year, but also the chief executive in 2002.

The only plausible explanation was given by a political commentator, Professor Lau Siu-kai: had the people of Hong Kong been told before the July 2000 election that the Election Committee would also decide the chief executive, some candidates might adopt an anti-Tung platform and win.

The result was obvious. The Election Committee chose only those acceptable to Beijing. But perhaps more importantly from Mr Tung's point of view, no one outside the pro-Beijing camp even bothered to seek nomination as a candidate.

As Mr Tung's popularity plummeted, it became clear that if he were challenged at all in the March 2002 election, he would not win as comfortably as in December 1996, when he took 80 per cent of the votes cast by the then Election Committee of 400.

Mr Tung also realises that in a contested election he would have to answer embarrassing questions over issues such as the non-prosecution of his family friend Sally Aw Sian justified by the Government on the basis of a lack of evidence and public interest considerations and the sale of prime residential land at Pokfulam for the Cyberport by private treaty to Richard Li Tzar-kai, instead of by public auction.

So, a new safeguard had to be added in the Election of the Chief Executive Ordinance by providing that the names of the Election Committee members who propose and second the nomination of a candidate for the chief executive poll will be published in the Government Gazette unlike the 1996 election when the nomination process was by secret ballot.

The explanation was that this open-nomination procedure would make the election more transparent. True, but the perceptive will know that its desired effect is to make it impossible for any person other than Mr Tung to secure 100 members of the Election Committee to propose or second him or her when the Beijing leaders have so openly supported Mr Tung.

Any member of the 800 approached by a candidate other than Mr Tung will have to think of his or her job, prospects of promotion or success in business. Endorsing any candidate other than Mr Tung is tantamount to disobeying Beijing.

Thus, victory was guaranteed to Mr Tung even before he declared his candidature. But why the fanfare?

Could it be that the emperor really believes he is clothed with the mandate of his people? After all, the great majority of the Election Committee members were at the well-publicised gathering. And they all enthusiastically gave the emperor a standing ovation for his new robes. What a shame!

It is an insult to the intelligence of the 6.5 million people of Hong Kong. How can the few hundred people inside the room represent the majority of the people of Hong Kong, who are opposed to Mr Tung serving a second term? A recent poll by the Baptist University indicated that only 16 per cent of respondents supported Mr Tung for a second term, while 56 per cent were against. Is it not a shame that this international city has such an unfair and undemocratic system of electing our chief executive?

How can we expect our compatriots in Taiwan to support reunification with our motherland under the ''one country, two systems'' formula when they see how our chief executive is elected, compared with the way their president is chosen on a one-person, one-vote basis?

The best advice to Mr Tung would, therefore, be to win quietly by default íV that is, submit his nomination papers on the last day of the nomination period; wait for the deadline; and be declared the chief executive for the second term in the absence of any other valid nomination.

But what a shambles Mr Tung's advisers have made out of this by giving maximum publicity to this election. However, the saga has only begun.

The next thing Mr Tung's ''campaign manager'' will do, I understand, is to obtain the maximum number of signatures from the 800 members of the Election Committee on the nomination forms. There is little doubt that they could get more than 700 for very few people could afford not to sign.

The intention is, of course, to tell the world that Mr Tung's victory this time around is even more resounding than in 1996. How can we expect Mr Tung's advisers to realise the paradox that the more support Mr Tung gets, the more flawed the electoral system is shown up to be? Please, Mr Tung, do not show off your new clothes any more.


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