A Farce of a Farce: Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Election

:::  My apologies for typos. I recently suffered a hand injury and this is my first essay using voice dictation :::

I wanted to write for a moment about the issues concerning the latest Hong Kong Chief Executive election. People are clearly upset about the results. The issue, I feel, is that the election was a farce of a farce. This will take a moment to explain because Hong Kong politics are difficult to understand. Even as a Political Science major and former American Government teacher, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the nuances and math of the system. The same can be said for Hong Kong education system(s), but that’s for another day.

The first farce was election itself, meaning that it’s a word that sounds something quite like democracy but in reality it isn’t. But we had a full show with debates and candidates and arguments inside of free press. While Hong Kong copies most institutions from the United Kingdom, the political system is shaped a little more like America’s: meaning is not unitary government, there are separate branches. We have a legislative and executive branch. The legislative assembly is often shortened to Legco. Half of the seats on the Lecgo are voted and in a way familiar to most Americans in that the representatives represent certain districts of the city.

The other half are a different political beast entirely and something I’ve not seen in any other polity. They’re called Functional Constituencies and they represent various sectors of the economy and local governance. Information technology companies get a vote, as does the transportation industry, as do the banks and the tourism sector. In some ways I like the blunt honesty of the system. While American companies and special interest groups are forced to indirectly buy and influence votes, Hong Kong simply gives them the vote in proportion to their actual power.

Unlike the Legco, neither districts nor people have any voice in the Chief Executive election. Instead, the Functional Constituencies choose a 1200 member Election Committee who in turn choose the Chief Executive. So what we have is institutionally enshrined oligarchy wrapped in the veneer of limited democracy (the first farce). The saving grace is that the choice is at least in Hong Kong, with an autonomous local oligarchy, instead of Beijing. So while Hong Kong people aren’t exactly happy with this arrangement, the choice of Chief Executive at least seems to be local.

This election threw that farce out. Arguably, this happened because Beijing was trying to be more democratic. The issue was that the oligarchy supported Henry Tang while common people seemed to despise him. Only a week ago he seemed to have all the votes he needs lined up. That was before Xi Jinping called a meeting of important oligarchs in Shenzhen and informed them that Beijing wanted CY Leung, the more popular of the three (unpopular) choices. This is because Beijing wanted the next Chief Executive to have popular support.

So therein lies the second farce. In trying to correct for the first farce of faux democracy, Beijing exposed the second farce of local, autonomous decision-making. In so doing it became a farce of farce.  The decision was neither democratic nor local.  Instead, we had sloppy popularity contest with an incompetent and indecisive puppet master pulling the strings behind the stage.

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