Two of the five candidates for Hong Kong Island in next Sunday’s exciting Legislative Council by-election have sent me material begging for my vote. They are Spencer Tai Cheuk Yin of the Kuomintang, no less, and Tanya Chan of the Civic Party. Both want democracy and the abolition of functional constituencies; Tai also wants help for Hong Kong students in Taiwan and is proud to uphold Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People (which, as we all recall, are nationalism, democracy and people’s livelihood).
Tanya is the candidate everyone has heard of, not least because she caused the by-election in the first place by resigning her Legco seat along with fellow pro-democrats in the other four constituencies.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. The pro-democrats hoped to highlight public support for universal suffrage by forcing a city-wide poll that could serve as a de-facto referendum. But the exercise has turned into an embarrassment. Not only did the Democratic Party refuse to take part but the entire opposition are boycotting the by-election after being scared off in no uncertain terms by Beijing, whose officials, incapable of seeing the funny side of a make-believe plebiscite, went into one of those mouth-frothing fits we see all too few of these days.
A referendum is unconstitutional, they ranted, even though (or because, according to their logic) the Basic Law makes no mention of such a device. Pro-Beijing supporters dutifully and loudly echoed this nonsense, while enjoying – as indeed we all did – the sight of government officials awkwardly defying their Mainland masters by obeying the law and organizing the by-election. To make up for it, Chief Executive Donald Tsang will, though he doesn’t want to say it openly, abstain from voting in what he declares to be an unnecessary and wasteful poll. Long accustomed to urging participation to give our rigged elections a stamp of legitimacy, the government is this time implicitly discouraging us.
Who would Donald cast his ballot for anyway?
Apart from the used-car-salesman-like KMT guy and Tanya – whose sullen, leaflet-distributing presence next to the Mid-Levels Escalator is brightening up our mornings so much this week – there are three choices.
The first, pretty-boy student Leung Wing-ho, is one of the young idealistic activists who decided to run in the by-elections so the CP and LSD candidates would be sure of having opponents. (Otherwise, candidates would be returned automatically, and you wouldn’t have the all-important ‘referendum’ effect. Perhaps the idea was that you would vote Tanya for a ‘yes to democracy’ and Leung for a ‘no’, though of course he is as pro-universal suffrage as she is really. The latest theory seems to be that simply turning up and voting is a ‘yes’, though some Beijing loyalists unreceptive to the ‘boycott’ directive are vowing to spoil their ballot papers. The sheer problem of how we are supposed to read the results of these by-elections is in itself a good reason to stay in bed on Sunday.)
The candidate with the inauspicious number 4 is one Wong Hing, representing the grumpier end of the independent faction. We were supposed to have ‘Bus Uncle’ Roger Chan running on Hong Kong Island, but he screwed up his nomination, and the chance of a hint of sanity in the campaign was tragically lost.
That leaves us with Lee Chun-hung, who it seems was catapulted into politics by the treatment of a lady friend who was fired from the Vocational Training Council. The lady friend is his campaign manager, and her Indonesian maid is helping out too. Any money left over from the campaign fund-raising drive will go to Asian Tsunami orphans. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and this one is about par for the course but comes with a more-colourful-than-average website.
The government will really, really hate it if people vote. Other than that, the only reason I can find for traipsing off to the polling station on Sunday is to be able to say in years to come that I once voted Kuomintang. A mild thrill, at best.