Blessed are the psephologists…

There can be few more tiresome bores in the world – apart from people who get obsessed about maps – than avid debaters of different electoral systems. But like the meek, the merciful and the poor in spirit, their day will come. Indeed, it will dawn within the next year or so, as Hong Kong examines the nitty-gritty of political reform ahead of ‘universal suffrage’ in 2017.

The Civic Party’s Ronnie Tong addressed this issue recently by calling for a system that guarantees that even if there are three or four or more candidates, the Chief Executive ends up being elected with more than 50% of the vote, and thus – we like to think – a nice, healthy mandate. This is done through having two rounds of voting: if the top two candidates win, say, 40% and 30% of the vote, they run again in a second, deciding poll.

This is how the French elect their presidents, usually holding polls two weeks apart. If that sounds like too much hard work, you can do it in one go, by asking voters to number their favoured candidates in order of preference. Someone then finds out what hard work really means, as they crunch all the numbers to find out which candidate would have enough 2s as well as 1s – or even 3s – to be the majority’s choice were the field reduced to two.

This is called an Alternative Vote. The British rejected it for general elections in a 2011 referendum on the understandable grounds that it is more complicated than the familiar first-past-the-post system and, even worse, suspiciously foreign-sounding. Give it a snappier, more Anglo-Saxon name like ‘Instant Run-off’, however, and the whole thing magically becomes so user-friendly that even Americans get it.

Civic Party hopefuls, along with fellow moderate pro-democrats in the HK Democratic Party, have an interest in a system like this as a representative of their bloc would have a decent chance of getting through to the second round of voting. It also sort-of implies (though doesn’t require) that the first-round ballot would have three or four, or maybe five, candidates on it. So, working back, it suggests a nomination system that limits the number of candidates on the ballot. Working back even further, we see a nomination system that bars weirdoes and eccentrics like the radicals of the League of Social Democrats from being nominated. Not surprisingly, mainstream pro-Beijing figures can also see the benefits, which is why they seem reasonably happy with Ronnie Tong’s idea. And the LSD, of course, hate it.

A different proposal comes today from Lingnan University’s Ho Lok-sang. Some people may dismiss Professor Ho as a hand-wringing namby-pamby, but he is in fact a man of bold and decisive ideas. He suggests a voting system that gives us all two votes each; we can cast them both for our favourite candidate, or we can split them between two. But it gets more interesting, not to say fun: we can wield the votes negatively as well as positively. That is, you can cast one or both of your votes against a candidate (or two) you really hate; or you can cast one for a nice guy, and one against a baddy – and so on. One intriguing possibility from such a process is that some candidates might emerge with a number of votes that is below zero. Talk about losing face.  

Ho seems to think that this would increase the chances of a moderate winning. Probably, he is thinking in terms of calming Beijing officials’ fears that Hong Kong might elect a highly popular unpatriotic CIA-backed splittist. As an additional de-facto veto, millions of poor and elderly electors could be mobilized by the promise of a free lunch-box to vote against the rogue candidate, letting a spotty and talentless but basically benign no-hoper win after the votes are netted out. (Why not just order the obedient old folk to vote for the no-hoper and be done with it?  Hard to say. Most of us would prefer to increase our favourite candidate’s chances of winning rather than waste a vote by casting it negatively. But in Communist-land, where elections are rigged exercises, maybe this ability to un-vote for a candidate seems appealing.)

Ho also recommends a way to satisfy Beijing’s need for a loyalty test: a local law requiring candidates and actual Chief Executives to respect ‘One Country, Two Systems’, presumably by way of an oath. The local courts could kick someone out if he or she breaks this law – and don’t even ask how you’re supposed to prove that. Again, this is all about making Beijing feel comfortable.

Well, it makes a change from screeching about Alpais Lam and pro-government triads.

And so we turn to the even more interesting subject of maps: this article offers 40 of them, dividing the world according to such things as legal system and alphabet. For special fun, try disentangling number 17.

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20 Responses to Blessed are the psephologists…

  1. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    Awesome link. My day will now be spent trawling over these maps. Damn you, Hemlock.

  2. We can’t really expect Hongkongers to have a sense of scale or proportion. Many expats also live most of their lives in the “Soho Triangle” – FCC, IFC, Robinson Road. Kowloon could be the Congo for them.

    I can’t read any further. Your map is not the correct projection but an old Colonial occicentric one. It’s tempting to like it because it makes Australia look so tiny. But I must be firm. Try Mollweide.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mollweide_projection_SW.jpg

  3. maugrim says:

    The issue of an ‘acceptable system’ is tiresome as each side has their own agendas separate from what would actually be ‘good’ for HK, the Dems included. Under our present system and its likely successor, there are no ‘dreams’ expressed by candidates in terms of what kind of HK they would like to see and the consequential policy actions, hence little or no accountability. Sure, we blame CY and don’t like the guy for valid reasons, however, what benchmarks are we using? His plans and promises? He never had any other than to be better than ‘the last guy’. The dems? They just want to feel that they are part of the show and are a force to be taken seriously. beyond ‘democracy’ as an ideal, exactly what concrete dreams and policies do they have for HK that should make us choose them as valid alternatives? My point is that for many political participants in HK its the race that’s important, not the finish or the aftermath.

  4. Local Tax Payer says:

    I beg to differ. The French system would allow almost anyone to stand, even an LSD member, although, not I think, going as far as Hemlock or brown-skinned people. The no-hopers are simply eliminated in the first round.

    Having the two rounds simultaneously, as you so lucidly explain, may lack clarity. Having a gap between them allows more tactical voting — and more protest votes — since second-round voters can take into account the results of the first round — der…

    It’s worth repeating: “one country(,) two systems” has no legal validity whatsoever in Hong Kong. Some doddery old Alzheimer-ridden spittooning dwarf whose name temporarily escapes me coined it a thousand miles away from here.

  5. PCC says:

    It is not accurate to say that CY Leung offered no plans or promises prior to his selection.

    Specifically, he pledged to tackle the enormous problems in:

    – education (nope)
    – housing (nope)
    – healthcare (credit him for reducing mainland mothers)
    – uneven distribution of income (nope)
    – lead implementation of universal suffrage (ha!)

  6. Ping Che says:

    On a different note, is the PLA preparing for an intervention? This morning I saw a number of armoured troop carriers pull into Fanling barracks.

    I go by there almost every day for a couple of years now, but have never seen this kind of equipment around before.
    Normally the best we get is helicopters training for formation flying before October 1st and July 1st holidays.

  7. Grog says:

    Fully agree with Maugrim. The dems have been tilting at the windmill of universal suffrage for so long that it is the only goal they have. What about after the election?

  8. gweiloeye says:

    I don’t know why any of these guys are bothering arguing about the
    ‘how’. Hong Kong will get what Beijing says they will get – that is, someone from the communist party vs someone from the communist party – and that’s it – the sham democracy to keep the masses quiet.

    Think they better just build a bridge and get over it and pray to their repective deities that they won’t be totally incompetent and won’t call in the PLA at the drop of a hat.

  9. Real Scot Player says:

    Best voting system is Single Transferrable vote and first one to 50% + 1 vote wins PROVIDED there is an option for voting for a candidate called “No Confidence”

    Example You vote 1 for Christine Loh (why not) as your first choice and 2 for C Y as your second choice. And 3 for No Confidence. Stop choosing after that Meaning you have a negative vote for the DAB/ pro Beijing slIme.

    So in the first rond of counting Christine doesn’t get enough to win so your 2 vote is transferred to CY pile. Eventually with all the transfers you coulld end up with 50%+1 vote.

    If all the candidates are crap (being Hong Kong) then No Confidence wins.

  10. Joe Blow says:

    ….vote 1 for Christine Loh (why not)….

    Because Christine Loh has been neatly encapsulated by the Establishment. Christine kisses CY’s ass on a daily basis. She is now one of them @ $ 180,000- per month.

    Everybody is for sale and now we know what Christine’s price is.

  11. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Local Tax Payer,

    I – and I think many others – take genuine offence at your very rude reference to Deng Xiaoping.

    We in HK have a lot to be grateful for as regards his vision and foresight, not to mention the tolerance he and his successors have exhibited towards some of HK’s more extreme radicals.

    As has often been written before here and elsewhere, if you really don’t like living in HK now that it’s once again part of China (and that’s never going to change) then please move out and live somewhere else. Try Singapore for a start.

  12. Sojourner says:

    Oh dear …

    RTP is turning into a caricature of himself.

    Deng Xiaoping was a fucking cunt who turned the PLA on the people in Beijing in 1989.

    I HOPE you take “genuine offence” at that.

  13. Sojourner says:

    Saturnine mood that I am in I find myself increasingly inclined to agree with Red Ken’s verdict: “If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.”

  14. Chopped Onions says:

    “Sojourner for CE!!!!”

  15. Diane Butler says:

    … not to mention the tolerance he and his successors have exhibited…

    @RTP: So I guess we have to be ‘grateful’ to the old fool ?

    To the best of my knowledge, not a single person -out of 1.2 billion- ever voted for Little Bottle Deng. He was a member of a band of opportunistic hooligans who grabbed power after the Americans defeated the Japs. His legitimacy is ZERO. He is no better than Saddam Hussein or Quadaffi or King Jung Il. He just lasted longer.

  16. Real Lax Mayor says:

    “As has often been written before here and elsewhere, if you really don’t like living in HK now that it’s once again part of China (and that’s never going to change) then please move out and live somewhere else. Try Singapore for a start.”

    Once more for posterity…

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  17. Henery says:

    Ahhh, the old “If you don’t like living in HK/China gambit,” pulled out of the hat when you have no more arguments. I like living in HK/China, but that, to my knowledge, is not incompatible with criticism of the system or individuals who are/were part of it. You should try to sharpen up your arguments in defence of murderous despots.

  18. LTP says:

    RTP, I’ve long wondered why you bother to read Hemlock and the ever-stimulating and witty forum, when you claim to be so gravely offended by discussion of issues of interest to all of us, including the thugs who have taken over Hong Kong and are ruining it.

    The only explananation I can find is that you’re being paid by some overseas-funded organisation: do tell me if I’m wrong.

    And perhaps you could inform us which subjects we can comment on that won’t cause you too much mouth-frothing and other secretions?

  19. On Da Lo says:

    The Alternative Vote is known as preferential voting in Australia. Our upper house engages in a further refined form called proportional preferential.

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