31 August 2012

Electile Dysfunction – Special Election Double Issue 功能障碍 - 選舉雙刊


You would be forgiven for forgetting that the quadrennial Legislative Council (Legco) Election is this Sunday. For the entire city is talking about only one thing: the escalating national education controversy that has thrown our government into the biggest political firestorm since C.Y. Leung took office in July. It also doesn’t help matters that Election 2012 is a particularly confusing one. This time around, every voter is given two votes, one for a geographical constituency and the other for a District Council functional constituency called the “Super Seat.” Super what? And to confuse you even more, there are more new faces from political parties old and new in the run than in any prior elections. Figuring out who is who and which candidate to vote for can be a tall order. This article is designed to help.

Before you hike up your pants and wade through the murky waters of local politics, it helps to get a crash course on how the Legco works. This will help you get past the rhetoric and debunk the half-truths. So bear with me for a few minutes and tough out the next three paragraphs the same way you swallow cough medicine or listen to your boss’ golfing exploits.  Once you understand it, everything else will start to make sense.


Election Day this Sunday


Local Politics 101

The Legco, our mini-parliament, currently has 60 seats, half of which are called “geographical constituencies” (地方議席) and half  of which are called “functional constituencies” (功能議席).  The 2009 Political Reform Package increased the number of seats to 70 – adding 5 seats to each half – beginning this Election 2012.  Whereas the 35 geographical seats are directly elected by millions of voters like you and me, the 35 functional seats are each handpicked by a small circle of voters within a trade or interest group. The Engineering functional seat, for instance, is selected by only a few thousand registered engineers, whereas the electoral base for the Insurance seat is made up of not a single individual but 140 insurance companies. By and large, the functional constituencies are dominated by pro-business, pro-government and pro-Beijing elites who invariably vote the party line.

The functional constituencies are the government’s most effective weapon against uncooperative lawmakers. They serve a dual purpose: to shoot down any bills introduced by the democratically-elected geographical constituencies and to rubber stamp those proposed by the government. This is how it works. Under the infamous “separate vote count” (分組點票) procedure, any bill introduced by a Legco member must go through two rounds of voting: it must first be passed by the geographical constituencies and then separately by the functional constituencies. As a result, bills that the government or Beijing doesn’t care for will inevitably get voted down by the ever loyal and ever predictable functional constituencies.

But the Legco voting system is seriously schizophrenic. Under our one-of-a-kind, only-in-Hong-Kong electoral system, the separate vote count mechanic applies only to bills proposed by individual lawmakers. Government-proposed bills, on the other hand, require merely a majority vote by all 60 (soon to be 70) seats voting together. Because Pan-Democrats carry only about 23 seats in the Legco, with the remaining seats taken up by pro-establishment lackeys (including most of the functional seats), the system ensures that every government-led initiative -- which otherwise would have been killed by democratically elected lawmakers in a separate vote count -- sails through the Legco without a hitch. As a result, our legislative and executive branches always march in lock steps. How is that for a separation of powers?


Separate vote count explained


Be Angry, Be Very Angry

If you have paid attention to what you just read, right now you should be fuming with anger. You should be asking yourself: how can a system so inherently undemocratic and blatantly unfair fly below our radar screen? Good question. In fact, the functional constituencies are the reason why taxpayers are forking out HK$67 billion for 26 kilometers of wasteful express railway, why the investigation of C.Y. Leung’s conflicts of interest in the West Kowloon bid was dropped, and why the government is sitting on trillions of foreign reserves and we still don’t have a social security plan. Funding for the national education curriculum, the cause célèbre that is blanketing the airwaves and plastering the newsstands this week, was approved by the Legco in 2004. 15 years after the Handover, the functional – make that dysfunctional – constituencies remain the single biggest stumbling block on the city’s path to full democracy.

Hong Kong has the dubious distinction of being one of very few places in the world where citizens are deprived of universal suffrage but still enjoy unfettered freedom of expression. It is as much an irony as it is a perfect recipe for social activism. While we don’t have the right to elect our chief executive or half of our lawmakers, we can shout out against unwanted government policies. Over time, our voices have become our proxy votes. It is Martin Luther King Jr. who said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” In Hong Kong, slogans, banners and mass protests are our language. Sunday protests are so common that they have become a way of life.

Now back to this Sunday’s election.


Language of the unheard


Who NOT to Vote for

Let's rule out the obvious: DAB (民建聯), the Liberal Party (自由黨), the Federation of Trade Union (工聯會) and Regina Ip’s New People's Party (新民黨) are all pro-Beijing, pro-establishment parties that you can cross off the list. Likewise, many of the so-called independent candidates are either secretly backed by one of those parties like Priscilla Leung (梁美芬), or numbskulls like Pamela Peck (白韻琹), a washed-up radio talk show host milking her D-list celebrity status. Together they make up a rogues gallery of social pariahs who prey on the elderly and the uninformed, who spit in your face and tell you it’s rain. If you are reading this, then chances are you are too smart to fall for their traps.

Then there are the Democrats (民主黨), the largest opposition party.  Founded by Martin Lee in 1997, the Democrats used to a beacon of democracy and guardians of our core values. Though they might not always be as effective as we would like them to be, we thought of them as the good guys. But the summer of 2010 changed  all that. During the heated political reform debate, the Democrats sold out the city by handing the government a political gift wrapped up in a bright pink bow: the seven votes it needed to pass the regressive Reform Package (which, unlike other bills, required a super-majority). We all suspected that they did it in exchange for favors from the Liaison Office (中聯辦), including a nomination threshold for the new “Super Seats” that is favorable to large political parties like the Democrats. Because of the underhanded trade, universal suffrage and the abolition of the functional constituencies – cornerstones of the Pan-Democrats' platform – got indefinitely postponed. The scars of betrayal run deep and the Democrats are now more despised than even the despicable DAB. So much for a beacon of democracy.

What about other Pan-Democrats like the Civic Party (公民黨), the Labour Party (工黨) and ADPL (民協)? They didn't sell us out to the Communists and those lawyers and union leaders surely look persuasive and gentlemanly. But their gentlemanliness is precisely their problem. Reasoned debate and thoughtful dialogue may work in normal democracies like the U.S. and Europe. But we don’t have a normal democracy in Hong Kong. So long as the functional constituencies still occupy the left wing of the Legco, none of the Pan-Democrats’ high school debate team tactics will gain any traction. Still, these one-trick ponies stick to what they do best: they wag their fingers at the government and issue strongly-worded public statements. It is the equivalent of hiring a guard dog that barks but never bites. Their lack of conviction, driven by their aversion to risk and desire to protect their professional image, has made them utterly powerless against the establishment. On that account, they are just as guilty as the pro-establishment camp of acquiescing to the status quo and contributing to the business-as-usual Legco culture.


A deal was cut



Don’t Mistake the Good Guys for the Bad

Enter People Power (人民力量) and the League of Social Democrats (社民連). Loud, crude and easily mistaken for common thugs, they are the polar opposites of the goody two-shoes Civic Party. Most people know them only for their over-the-top antics: hurling objects at political opponents and clashing with police outside the Liaison Office. God forbid, they even curse in front of television cameras from time to time. In a city that gives so much importance to civility and social harmony, these foul-mouthed rebels are branded as radical and irrational. They threaten our parliamentary culture and set bad examples for our children.

But that’s just a load of bollocks (expletive replaced).

With unwavering resolve and grit, People Power’s Raymond Wong (黃毓民) and the Social League’s Long Hair (長毛) use their no-nonsense straight talk and take-no-prisoner antics to rattle the establishment and shake up the status quo. They galvanize the public and breathe new life into social activism, our only leverage against a lopsided system. They are also positive role models for our youths, contrary to popular misconception. Without the likes of Wong and Long Hair to emulate, the students who organized themselves as Scholarism (學民思潮) wouldn’t have had the courage and conviction to besiege the government headquarters this week in protest of the national education curriculum. If the protestors were behaving anything like the gentle souls of the Civic Party, they would have paid the Education Department a visit, delivered a 50-page complaint letter and gone back to their studies.

What’s more, People Power and the Social League are not all brawn and no brains. Politically savvy and creative, they are the best antidote we have against the dysfunctional system. For instance, Raymond Wong came up with the brilliant idea of a de facto referendum to garner public support against the 2010 Reform Package. Though voters’ turn-out was disappointing, it was enough to upset Donald Tsang’s apple cart and force his cronies to scramble for a counter move. During the last Legco session, Wong and his faithful sidekick Albert Chan (陳偉業) played tag team in a series of filibusters that ultimately thwarted C.Y. Leung’s attempt to rush through his cabinet reshuffle without public consultation. While the two were busily stalling the Legco vote, the rest of the Pan-Democrats sat on the sidelines jeering at their efforts, green with envy.


Political leaders in the making


Whom to Vote for on Sunday

No matter how much I advocate for them, People Power and the Social League remain a hard pill for many Hong Kongers to swallow. Like durian and stinky tofu, they are an acquired taste. In Hong Kong, civility and docility are social values that have been firmly imprinted on us, not least by an education system based on rote learning and rule following. We tune out when we hear a curse word and squirm when things turn physical. We are trained to only listen to reason, even if we often lack the ability to tell the truth from lies. Between now and Sunday, politicians of all stripes will tell you the big plans they have for Hong Kong and the 25 reasons why you should vote for them. But in the end there is only one platform that any party can and should run on, and that is universal suffrage and the abolition of the functional constituencies. And the candidates that can get you the closest to the end game are People Power and the Social League. If you are still not convinced, think about the students camping out on Tamar Square, some of whom are on a hunger strike while others are calling for class boycotts. Now imagine it was our politicians on that square. Who among them do you think would most likely get the government to back down? Those who play by the rules or those who think outside the box? Choose wisely.

What About that Second Vote?

“Super Seats” refer to the five new functional seats added to the Legco as a result of the 2010 Reform Package. The candidates are nominated by District Councilors and elected by all registered voters. They are so called because of their large electoral base comprising over 3.2 million voters. But the high nomination threshold negotiated between the Liaison Office and the Democratic Party has effectively barred People Power, the Social League and other small parties from the race. I therefore suggest you cast a blank vote, for it will send a clear enough message to the Super Seat candidates that none of them is worthy of your vote.


They deserve your vote


______________________________

This article also appears on SCMP.com under Jason Y. Ng's column "As I See It."

As posted on SCMP.com


31 comments:

  1. Jason, thank you for such a clear presentation of the system and the issues!

    ReplyDelete
  2. 如果你反對國民教育,你應該投票給誰。
    1,不是民建聯, 因為它們支持國民教育

    2。民主黨,他們可能會每人絕食抗議3個小時。然後放棄,甚至可能最後轉成同意

    3。公民黨,他們可能會離場抗議,發動民眾向政府發電子郵件, 但國民教育會繼續

    4。人民力量承諾以拉布抵抗國民教育科,直到成功, 正如他們制止五司十四局

    現在你知道如何投票, 重要的是你要出來投票

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks, Zhu. And very well said, Dan!!

    Jason

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  4. Durian and stinky tofu. Very good metaphor.

    Andrew

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  5. Jason, totally agree except to cast a blank vote for the Super Seats.

    Andrew

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  6. Which candidate list would you vote for? ADPL (民協)??

    Jason

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  7. My wife Alice and I will separate our votes. One for 民協. One for 民主黨.

    Andrew

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  8. The Democrats?! Don't you think you are sending the wrong message by giving the Democrats a vote?

    Jason

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  9. 最重要的首要目標是踢走保皇黨!

    Andrew

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  10. Jason,

    香港絕對我有份,但對住呢班嘩鬼!就絕對揀唔落手!Fankly speaking, People Power and Soical League - denfinitely are not my cup of tea. 佢哋有啲行為有時真係幾過分!真係幾「冇品」噃!我總覺得他們就恃住這種嘩眾取竉的技倆,去增加所謂政治籌碼,我個人唔係幾「buy」囉!尤其係嗰位「毓民」兄!雖然係咁,但我又幾欣賞佢哋嗰位新紮師兄:「黃洋達」!吧位兄台,見到佢係辨論台上那種急智辨才,好犀利,針針見血!佢心中嗰團火,Big "LIKE". 今次出戰我區,都可以「啉啉」佢喎!

    Cheers,
    Jean

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  11. Oh ! Forgot to do the spell check ! 〝Frankly Definitely〞 my carelessness. hehe !

    Jean

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  12. Jason, thanks for a well-written piece that I will share with all my non-Chinese reading friends and acquaintances.

    One problem though, since the Government no longer announces the # of blank vote, the symbolic disapproval brought by blank votes will thus not be known by the general public.

    Your thoughts?

    Cheers,
    Dupont

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  13. Thanks, Dupont. I think the government will have to announce the number of blank votes -- there'll be public pressure. But even if they don't, we can easily deduce the figure by subtracting the number of people who vote in the District Council functional constituency from the number of people who vote in the general geographical constituency.

    Jason

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  14. This is a brilliant essay. Thanks so much for simplifying the city's election scene for me.

    tobetrue

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  15. What about the two candidates in the legal functional constituency seat?

    ReplyDelete
  16. First time someone made some sense of our mess called politics...

    Lemonscape

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  17. Only the likes of Raymond Wong Yuk-man and Leung Kwok-hung (Long Hair) have the gumption to tear down the screaming injustice of the functional constituency system and our elitist mutual-admiration society, Communist Party adoring and, obtusely, property magnate-loving (and loved) government. We deserve what our radicals can do for us. Voting for activism is a vote for us.

    Lanson

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  18. I agree with most of this article except for the last part about casting a blank vote in the Super Seats. However wrong you think the Democratic Party were in 2010, I DO NOT want to see the pro-establishment parties win even more Legco seats.

    Don67

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  19. I was wondering if the Hong Kong government all just end up as China's lap dog. Doing God knows what for them, rigging votes and slowly allowing Hong Kong to sink into their Communistic country.

    Gaby Leung

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  20. Hi all,

    The dust is finally settled for the geographical constituencies. Congratulations to People Power for winning 3 seats (up from 2)!! And quite happy that several Democrat Party elders lost their bid -- they did so poorly that party chief Albert Ho 何俊仁 has resigned.

    A few set-backs:
    1. The Social League didn't gain any new seat (although Long Hair gets to keep his).
    2. The Pro-Beijing camp has won new seats and kept old ones. Rat Queen Priscilla Leung, for instance, will be back to spread her germs and diseases.
    3. I was glad to see Civic Party's Tanya Chan 陳淑莊 go (she is quite useless). But her seat is now taken by the veritable phoney Claudia Mo 毛孟靜, who makes my hair stand on end every time she opens her mouth.

    Jason

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  21. Indeed! Right on the comment about Auntie Claudia MO!

    Phil

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  22. I would salute to Claudia, we owned her a favour, she was humiliated once because she fight for HKers. She remain who she is despite that blow was a heavy one.Now I've grown up and I want to show my respect to her, Ta ! Claudia.

    Stephen

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  23. Hi Jason
    Thanks for the clear explanation on the LegCo structure and functioning.

    Who designed this LegCo structure with Geographical and Functional constituencies? The leaderships from before 1997 or after 1997? BJ, the Brits or the HK government themselves? How was this determined?

    Ken

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  24. Politics aside (as I am not very informed nor am I able to vote)...Thank you for explaining the system so well...this is great for sharing with people who want to learn more about this topic :)

    Isabel

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  25. Call me pessimistic but I've got a feeling that Hong Kong won't have universal suffrage any time soon. Especially when the pan-democrat parties are so disunited, which really is the problem here. The PP and LSD; despite their courageous efforts isn't going to change much in the long run.

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  26. Thanks very much for an interesting look into Hong Kong politics...my only disagreement concerns the "Reasoned debate and thoughtful dialogue may work in normal democracies like the U.S." statement ...have you looked at our (U.S.) Congress in action lately...a bunch of undisciplined self serving little boys and girls who haven't yet learned how to play nice in the sandbox...

    dbrandt

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  27. I agree that 5 District Referendum was a brilliant idea though sadly misunderstood by the general public. But if I remember correctly it was only made possible with active participation of the Civic Party, whose – as author described them - ‘goody two-shoes’ lawmakers took a huge political risk and resigned in order to make the referendum possible.

    Gabi

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  28. Jason,


    I was too shocked, pained, to really say anything anymore after my first fleet through this articles of yours. True, I have never TRULY understand the electoral system in Hong Kong (nor even in Australia for that matter), but this is really too much. It reminds me of the saying, “All Animals are Equal, but Some are More Equal than the Others”.

    BTW, even after I am through with your crash course, the whole thing doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that bills proposed by individual lawmakers can be vetoed down by pro-governmental groups; and that every government-led initiative can saunter through Legco unscathed. So separation of powers is already dead in Hong Kong far ahead of the 50 years’ count from 1997? While we still call our society a “democratic” one it has none of its main beacons, and is being more and more “Mainlandised” by the day. Is this just an oxymoron or is it easier to swallow if we just accept our home as a Communist one now, much as we don’t want to?

    What is freedom if it is only freedom within a restrictive scope permitted by the over-arching Big Brother, or that the pursuit of one’s freedom will trigger countless repercussions? Can you still term that “unfettered freedom”? As commented in your earlier article, I think it is really scary that “National Education” has been so long in the making, when none of the public knows. Maybe I am the only one who know nothing about it, can’t speak for all the others, I dare say. So basically someone has been eyeing the post of the CE since 2004, and has been planning this all along as the sacrifice offered to the gods once he ascended the throne???

    “A riot is the language of the unheard”. My friends and I were discussing the other day the imminence of WWIII. Every time any country goes hungry, whether for food or other resources, or when people are discontent, war erupts. You only have to look to history of any country to get proof of that. War is tearing the Middle East and economic hardships are burning Europe, how far are we from it? As for the Sunday demonstrations, I have grown so used to them that if there is ever one Sunday when I don’t hear or come across one now, I’ll start to re-think whether that day is really Sunday or a public holiday.

    [To be cont'd]

    Christine

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  29. The pro-establishment parties aside, who in their right mind is going to vote for Pamela Peck? (I don’t even know she has an English name) What does she know about politics and what can she really do, except plastering posters/advertisements everywhere over Hong Kong?! She may know a bit from Paul Tse, at least he is a lawyer from a distinguished law school, but I have nothing to say about his achievement, if any, so far though he has been in office already.

    The Reform Package, goodness knows why and what they gained from it. The reality is the damage is done and it is up to us to deal with it and work around it the best that we can. There is no use crying over spilt milk, maybe that is one true sentence that applies to politics, especially to dirty underhand games.

    The guard dog syndrome – they are afraid of offending the big guys too. The reason that they can still look gentlemanly is precisely because had they done otherwise, Big Brother would never have let them go and there ends their professional and gentlemanly career and image, full-stop. They have to watch that they don’t end up as the political culprits in the eyes of Big Brother, you know very well what ends they will meet. Whether I agree with their measures or condone their tactics, I can understand their fear. The only thing I can say is, if they are so worried about feeding themselves and dying in peace, maybe they should never have been in politics in the first place.

    Whether I agree with Raymond Wong and Long Hair’s tactics and juggling in the Legco, I have to agree with your comment about the students who grouped themselves as Scholarism. That 50-page complaint would have been binned the moment it was received, if it was received at all.

    Your comment about the acquired taste is right on the spot, we have been far too indoctrinated already even since the colonial times. We have never been able to really think for ourselves after garnering information from all sources (if they were available at all, bravo to Wikileaks) and what is the truth? At least we should have the right to reason it out and argue everything out and not have everything just stuffed into our heads! There should be a filtering mechanism in our heads and not just a receptor for everything blindly.

    “Big plans… and the 25 reasons…”, I’d rather they give me just one true reason as to why what they say are worth believing, and worth my time.

    Christine

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  30. Thanks for your comments as always, Christine.

    Two points:
    1. Paul Tse is backed by the Liaison Office. That's how he won his seat in Kowloon East. He is the ultimate scoundrel.

    2. You were spot on when you said, "[those who] worr[y] about feeding themselves... should never have been in politics in the first place." Nor should they pretend they are fighters for the people.

    Jason

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  31. Jason,

    1. I don't care who back Paul Tse. He certainly hasn't won my esteem as a Legco member and I think we deserve better or more sensible legislator(s).

    2. Let's not even pretend that they are fighters for the people. Everyone can see through their "pretence" (whatever the proper word is, you know I am no English teacher) so why bother pretending or getting those posts in the first place? Security of a fat monthly income and public limelight are the only things they are after. I am sure there must have been proper / good Legco members some time down our history, but right now all names have slipped from my mind.


    Christine : <

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