A ‘new dawn in HK politics’

It would be useful to have a plain, everyday pie-chart showing which party won what percentage of votes across Hong Kong in yesterday’s District Council elections. Even without one, however, it is clear that the pan-democrats got a beating, which should – but almost certainly won’t – convince them to get their act together for the Legislative Council elections next year.

There were two main reasons. Doctrinal divisions that led People Power radicals to run against the Democratic Party meant that the camp cannibalized its own vote in some constituencies. And the pro-establishment groups and media did a thoroughly effective job of smearing the Civic Party with, for example, allegations of wanting to swamp the city with millions of Filipinos.

All three strands of the pro-democracy camp can claim moral high ground. The Democratic Party did something genuinely unprecedented last year by pressuring Beijing officials into sitting down and negotiating with it over constitutional reform. The purist radicals were outraged at the fact that the DP had actually talked to the enemy. Civic Party members meanwhile put their consciences before their popularity in such endeavours as the by-election quasi-referendum, and (in their private capacity) in the court cases on the Zhuhai bridge and permanent residency for domestic helpers. All very noble.

The pro-establishment opposition, on the other hand, does not indulge in such displays of righteousness or independence. With its organizers and resource providers coordinated ultimately by Beijing officials, it largely follows United Front orders across the board.

If the results of these local elections were replicable in next year’s Legco polls, it could mean the end of the traditional pattern whereby the pro-democrats routinely get a good 60% of the vote. Indeed, if the People Power/LSD radicals maintain their militant anti-DP stance, their share of the vote can pretty much be categorized as pro-Beijing in effect, which really would bring the total pan-democratic camp vote below 50%, thus ending the mandate it has enjoyed – and frittered away – since Martin Lee’s heyday in the 1990s.

They would deserve it. The pro-dems are inevitably an extremely broad church, spanning Trotskyists, Catholics, petit-bourgeois and millionaires, and agreeing on little more than abstract ideals of individual liberty and universal suffrage. They will never have the unity of the pro-Beijing camp, disciplined through late-night Liaison Office phone calls and fear of excommunication. But if they really believe what they say, they have a duty to put differences aside and focus on the most practical and effective means of getting results.

The opportunities were handed to them on a plate. For years, the property tycoons’ behaviour, the repetitive favouritism shown them by government and the overall social and economic impact of the state/land/cartel complex have been screaming out as an issue for the pro-democrats to grab and never let go of. They could have been major trouble to the Hong Kong power structure. (Pro-Beijing activists have to swallow their disgust and moderate their criticism of the Communist-co-opted tycoons. It is true that some wealthier pro-democrats, like lawyers with corporate business, are in on the Hong Kong Property Pyramid Scheme themselves, but that’s relatively marginal.)

Instead, the pro-democrats were largely fixated by full universal suffrage – a concept anathema to, and expressly ruled out by, the sovereign power. It was more fun, more heroic, more principled and for years more interesting to Western media. But Beijing has skillfully made the theme of democracy less and less relevant to Hong Kong people – part of the reason why the tycoons and the wealth gap have risen in prominence. The pro-democrats have dreamily campaigned on about their ultimate goal as if they have no need of a 60% support base.

And here’s the weird thing: they can probably get by without it in next year’s Legislative Council elections. Back in the mid-90s, pro-democrats swept the board in elections for directly elected Legco seats, thanks to the first-past-the-post voting system. In order to give the less popular pro-Beijing DAB a better chance, the post-handover regime established a complex proportional representation system, which gives seats to losers as well as winners. The whole idea was to benefit parties too unpopular to get 50% of the vote. Ironic or what?

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16 Responses to A ‘new dawn in HK politics’

  1. Spud says:

    It is a mystery why they don’t unite and fight the common enemy of big business and the government collusion. Instead they prefer to play the victim over such trivial things like the wording of an insult or the press arrangements for a visit by a politician to a university.

    Can’t see the wood for the trees?

  2. Roger Maxims says:

    The proportional representation system is only controversial in the sense that HK people are not used to nominating preferences (1, 2, 3 and RON) on their ballot papers like they do in UK and other states dominated by foreign imperial forces. RON = reopen nominations.

    As for the commendable brevity of your factual summary above for those readers who are not privy to or apathetic to newspapers, TV news or their websites, it would be complete but for the following:

    that the Democratic Party is eating dust that they have swept from the ground themselves, by giving up on their long-held position of full universal suffrage. When you negotiate with your enemy the process is called gun-to-head-blackmailing and not backroom-dealing; and

    that the Civic Party ain’t got no ideas still about what Gladys-the-FDH-helper has done to them, since they are green as bamboo shoots as politicians. Voters can only sense anger in their blood and the annual HK$6k handout, not justice or conscience or whatever fantasy CP members are having.

    People’s Power is taking a calculated move by instigating young voters and haplessly hoping for a revolution that would arrive sometime in 2046.

  3. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Petty people in a city dominated by petty thinking

  4. Joe Blow says:

    They totally and completely deserve their loss. Championing PR for FDHs ? How out of touch can you be with popular sentiment ?

    And what, may I ask, is so ‘noble’ about that position, Hemlock ?

  5. Big Al says:

    Watchin Hong Kong politics unfold for the pro-democrats remind me so much of the classic amphitheatre scene in Life of Brian – “Excuse me, are you the Judean People’s Front?”, “Fuck off! We’re the People’s Front of Judea … and the only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front”.

    So, for Hong Kong, all we need to do is replace Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Popular Front, etc. with the Civic Party, the Democratic Party, the League of Social Democrats, People Power, etc.

    Oh, yes, and replace “Romans” with “Beijing” and there you have it! “Splitters!”

  6. Walter De Havilland says:

    @ Big Al … spot on mate. The DP and associated cohort of pro-democrats are heading into the wilderness. What a bunch of disorganised losers. I heard some of the democrats blaming the ‘united front.’ Wake up guys, there is no need for a ‘united front’ with pro-democrats self destructing!

  7. Gerald says:

    Well, Joe, if we agree on the term ‘noble’ as ‘having high moral qualities’
    then I think Hemlock is 100% correct.

    Unfortunately, given the less than high moral qualities of the HK Electorate, it was political suicide to espouse the FDH cause.

    I bet the Boys in Beijing cannot believe their luck

  8. maugrim says:

    Its hard to say but the chirpy, likeable Tanya Chan losing the Peak constituency is an interesting litmus test. Perhaps its true, the CP focusing on matters such as the PR of Domestic Helpers, along with infighting amongst pro-democrats, showmen like Leung Kwok-hung fighting away from his home turf etc, are all possibly rightly perceived by the electorate as straying away from bread and butter issues such as air quality, the cost of living, education etc. The fact that Regina’s party had 33% of its 12 candidates elected, should by itself be a big wake up call.

  9. Stephen says:

    What the ‘pro-democratic’ camp seem to forget is that the next legislature will debate the future elections of the CE and legislature which, supposedly, will be returned by ‘universal suffrage’.

    Unless they have at least one third of the seats in the next legislature, by which to veto Government proposals, this ‘universal suffrage’ is going to look very strange indeed. It is probable that the Government will propose, retaining functional constituencies, unrepresentative election committees and restrictive nomination numbers from the latter by which to stand.

    No veto power and hence no more cosy chats between the Democratic Party and Beijing. Hence mission accomplished as far as Beijing is concerned and they will amazed at how easy it was.

    Rank amateurs.

  10. Roger Maxims says:

    @Stephen

    DP or no DP, the pan-dems have become peripheral since the “iron votes” grabbing by DAB started. Snake feasts, lychee-picking, free shuttle buses to the polling station, “reminders” on nominee numbers, copying down your ID before voting for snake / lychee purposes.

    BJ won’t budge unless there is a real revolution a la 2003. Don’t kid yourself. The status quo is as sweet as nectar to them.

  11. Alex says:

    Can we talk about something else now?

  12. Jason90 says:

    From the SCMP online, under the headline: Pan-democrats face rethink after rout

    “Sunday’s results were a victory for pro-Beijing parties. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) won 136 seats – up 29 from four years ago. The Federation of Trade Unions, contesting an election independently for the first time, won 29 seats.

    The Democratic Party won only 47 seats, three less than in the 2007 election, after its leading candidates lost. The Civic Party won seven seats, one less than four years ago.”

    Seems like a good day for the pro-BJ parties, but hardly a ‘rout’ for the pan-Democrats.

    Sounds like the pro-BJ parties mainly replaced ‘independents’.

    Nevertheless, agree with all comments re: making ones party unpopular – better to support the rule of law in principle than fight a particularly unpopular case through the courts and then expect the electorate to understand that it is simply a matter of principle.

    Let’s hope for some serious getting of act together….

  13. Real Tax Payer says:

    I made my way to vote yesterday, even though the outcome was 100% predictable : Stephen Chan for C&W – University / Independent . Wish he would run for LEGCO. Great guy, and working non -stop for his constituency even at 62 .

    So…. the pro- BJ parties have a landslide

    But why do we tacitly arraign them as THE BADDIES ( at least in this column) ? ( or do we so arraign ? not sure)

    If we live in a (sort-of) democratic society, surely that labels the winners as THE GOODIES ?

    ( Rule # 1 in politics : The winners get to write history)

    And given the internal fratching within the pan-democrats, could we ever trust them to unite ? And still less – if united- agree a common policy ? I suspect not – sadly

  14. Vile says:

    The notion of good or bad political animals is a red herring. The (only) advantage of democracy is that it limits the time in which an individual can screw things up for everyone else. Ideally we would have free and fair elections for everyone from CE down to Asst. Leisure Mgr. every week or so, so they don’t have a chance to write any memos because I.T. hasn’t sorted out their email account yet.

  15. Local says:

    Will ANY electorate really put high moral values and political ideals before quality-of-life issues? Especially when these values and ideals run counter to the electorate’s own interests, a la domestic helpers’ PR rights? I don’t see the Britons flocking to support importing more workers from the poorer parts of EU, or Americans supporting giving illegal immigrants green cards…

  16. FOARP says:

    “I don’t see the Britons flocking to support importing more workers from the poorer parts of EU . . .”

    Except that they cannot possibly, under EU law, prevent immigration from other full EU members (Poland, Czech Republic etc.)? No, instead politicians in the UK pander to closet racists by talking tough about preventing immigration from OUTSIDE the EU.

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