Photo from the Wall Street Journal's China Realtime Report
Usually, I poke fun of the Hong Kong elections I'm allowed to vote in -- the half-hearted campaigning, the typos in the crappy pamphlets, the fact that the winners have reasonably limited powers anyway, since only half our Legislature is elected by the people.
But I walk over to my neighborhood poll station and cast my vote every time.
Even the dinkiest district elections are better than what we had today, which I don't call an "election," since there were only 1,193 hand-chosen elites -- out of a population of 7 million -- allowed to have a say in the chief executive, the guy who heads the government that spends my taxes and runs the city I live in.
In the end, they "chose" a guy named C.Y. Leung. Though how much they actually chose -- or were told to choose by Beijing -- I don't know.
Maybe I shouldn't call them "elites" either. The tycoons, etc., are elites. But who are the rest?
According to a relative in a New Territories village, there were guys going door to door last year asking for their vote, so that they could vote on the villagers' behalf for chief executive.
"Why can't we just vote directly?" the campaigning guy was asked, and he had no answer.
My relative added that this guy had a mainland accent, no campaign materials, and no idea about local issues. He couldn't answer simple questions about his political position or platform, much less how he could help the people he was talking to.
Meanwhile, another family member wrote this on his Facebook today. "Over 200,000 people made their voices heard in the pseudo election! This city is not dead yet."
(He was referring to the 220,000 Hong Kongers who participated in a mock vote held by a university -- one that mainland hackers tried to ruin. For a nicely written blog post about that, go to Journey to Hong Kong.)
It's interesting for me to see how my extended family reacts to these things, since they have nothing to do with the news, politics, blogging, etc. They're just ordinary working folk.
There have been reports that the Chinese government office here have been calling publishers and editors to rewrite columns -- to say good things about their chosen candidate, and to not print negative things about Beijing interference. I hope that's not true, because we don't want a censored, state-run media like the one on the mainland.
Here's what I don't get. Let's set aside the debate of how and when and if Hong Kong should be a democracy, since that's a whole other blog post.
Currently, Hong Kong is not a democracy. So why does it pretend to be one?
If Beijing is just going to hand-pick the guy they like, why bother with the facade of having people run public campaigns? Why bother "consulting" villagers and Chinese traditional doctors? Who is fooled into thinking that Hong Kong acupuncturists are choosing our leaders? For whose benefit is this song and dance?
Why bother hacking into a mock election held by a local university? What's the point of interfering in newspapers if -- at the end of the day -- they get to choose their man anyway?
They have a guaranteed win. Are our leaders so insecure that they also have to manufacture a false sense that everyone agrees with them?
What's an "election" without conspiracy theories? America still has its "birthers". Here are a few I heard around HK:
- By switching sides from Henry Tang to C.Y. Leung, Beijing lost the support of a traditional ally, the pro-business folk like tycoons and the Liberal Party.
- Beijing is going to punish Hong Kong tycoons for not backing their Chosen One.
- The government timed the election for the Rugby 7s weekend -- the biggest expat sporting event of the year -- so that socially conscious foreigners would be too busy (ahem, drunk off their faces) to make a fuss.
- The controversy over the high-level hob-nobbing Donald Tsang was just a way to detract from even worse controversy over the wife-cheating, illegal basement-building Henry Tang, who was Beijing's favorite until recently.
(Please note that I do say "conspiracy theory" above. I don't know if any of these are true.)
Another interesting tid-bit. During the campaign mud-slinging, one insult hurled at C.Y. Leung is that he is (or was) a member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which he denied. The local CCP is practically an underground society here. While Hong Kong politicians will admit to sitting on various Chinese government boards, etc., few in their right mind would admit to being card-carrying CCP members.
And yet, that's the Party in charge of the country that runs us. It's all so very weird.
I was on my way to the office today. (Sigh -- working on a beautiful sunny Sunday. At least Marc and I got to take Baby Chloe to the park beforehand.)
Anyway, I was on my way in and saw protesters along Gloucester Road.
I read later on the South China Morning Post website that protesters tried to storm the convention center, and that the police turned to using pepper spray.
This is very worrying.
I've always prided Hong Kongers on being peaceful, orderly demonstrators. We have the ability to take to the streets en masse -- like during the 2003 Article 23 debate, or annual commemorations of the June 4, 1989 Beijing crackdown. But it's gotten a bit unruly recently.
I spoke to a HKU professor recently who said the same. He said that, after so many years of democracy protests going nowhere, the crowd is getting more aggressive. Meanwhile, the police were getting more aggressive, too. He said it'd turn ugly soon.
I hope not.
At the end of the day, do people really care how many wines Tang has in his illegal basement? Or that Tsang is retiring in style in Shenzhen? Or whether Leung is a CCP member? I don't think so.
What angers people is -- no matter what we find out about these guys, no matter who we like or don't like -- we can't choose them.
It's a sense of helplessness, and it's an awful feeling.
There's another worry. Whether or not Leung fulfills his promises to preserve freedoms in this city -- we know he is not beholden to us since we didn't choose him.
We're told that we can have the vote in 2017. I'll believe it when I can walk to the polling booth behind my house, show my HKID, mark a piece of paper and put it in that little box. Until then, I'm staying skeptical.