Today, 1,200 people will cast ballots in the Hong Kong Chief Executive elections 2012. It has been an eventful campaign, with even a full Wikipedia page being developed with details outlining all the various bits of mud that were slung around. Let’s first be clear, as Anson Chan so eloquently stated, this election is not a free and fair election. Albert Ho was clearly not going to win, and only 1,200 people were able to express any opinion in any instance.
However, in contrast to the 2007 elections, this was measurably more competitive with 3 candidates (Leung Chun-Ying, Henry Tang and Albert Ho) rather than the 2 (Donald Tsang and Alan Leong). Notably was the fact that there were a whole host of other politicians who were considered possible candidates, including Rita Fan and Regina Ip. There was even a ‘primary’ between the various pan-democrat groups. The campaign itself was also more competitive with genuine uncertainty as to who would be ultimately elected until about a week ago. In addition to the formal poll, there was also the HKU’s public opinion poll that was conducted yesterday and the day before.
Although the 2012 elections are not free and fair elections in their own rights, I think it is hard to argue that they have not been an improvement in comparison to the 2007 elections. Whilst we should continue to push for universal suffrage in 2017, we should stop and think how far we have gone this year.
Some will argue that these incremental improvements aren’t enough. But if anything, I would say these incremental steps are necessary, and even if they were, they are inevitable; China has made it blatantly clear that they will not allow for what they see as a quantum leap to universal suffrage. After a messy campaign, all future candidates will be well advised to vet themselves as carefully as the US vets its candidates (although not perhaps Sarah Palin). This election has set a number of new norms as Hong Kong continues to develop an election culture. Television debates, release of platforms and engagement with the community, these are all crucial facets of universal suffrage that HK simply doesn’t have currently. This sort of political infrastructure needs developing, and this has been a useful learning tool for future reference.
This years elections have been messy and overly focused upon scandals. In my opinion, they ought to be more about policy and leadership style, not how much dirt exists about each one. But there are two things that we cannot deny. Firstly, this years elections was more competitive than the one in 2007, and improvement even if incremental. Secondly, this election has helped us to develop the necessary election infrastructure and political language in preparation for universal suffrage. What ever you might say about the candidates and the unfairness of the elections, they have not had a net negative impact on Hong Kong.
One final thought for all those who hated this years elections. Don’t you think the general hatred of this years elections might have helped increase public demand for universal suffrage?