Hong Kong went to the polls over the weekend. This time it was a Legislative Council election.
The LegCo set-up is basically rigged. Only half is directly elected. The other half is elected by representatives of interest groups, and they tend to favour the government/executive (which is not elected). You’d think this would be reason enough to throw up one’s hands and not bother to vote, but it is actually essential to vote and ensure that a certain crucial number of opposition members are in place to block weird legislation (such as the one banning the right to protest, also called an anti-subversion law).
Thus, this election was about ensuring that that number of opposition candidates got in even as it has become harder and harder for them to do so.
To make things more complicated, the already fractured opposition or pro-democracy camp got more fractured because post the Umbrella Revolution young people have begun advocating the idea of independence from China. Some of them stood for election. So now we have moderates, radicals and localists (who think the radicals are not radical enough).
Sometime last month I received a booklet of candidates from the election office. It was very confusing. There were lists, some with five candidates on them. The number of lists was mindboggling. Did I vote for a person or a list? What is the point of the list?
Later, I figured out that I had to vote for a list. The votes go to the first person on the list. If that person gets enough votes, the extra votes pass to the second person, who may also get elected if support is that overwhelming (unlike though, especially for five people lists). So fine, I just had to decide on a list, focusing on the first person. Unfortunately, there were at least four people I was happy to vote for. This is the problem with the opposition camp – their support base was split four or five ways (if you count the new localists). Also each constituency could elect five to six candidates.
Moreover, I got two votes – one for the ‘geographical constituency’ and one for a ‘super seat’ which is elected by the whole of Hong Kong. For the latter I had no idea who was running. Turns out there was actually another leaflet that I missed.
At the last hour, an academic came up with a voting strategy using poll numbers. The idea was to indicate the sure-fire win candidates, those on the margin and those unlikely to win. He urged people to abandon those unlikely to win and support the marginal candidates. This way chances of at least two opposition candidates being elected was higher. This is a sensible strategy and provided some clarity, especially when some of the unlikelys graciously stepped aside and urged their followers to support the marginals. However, their names remained on the ballot papers and when the results were announced you could see that some eejits had still voted for them. What a waste!
People criticised the academic for influencing voters and skewing the election but honestly, anyone with a brain had to see that some strategy was needed. In some cases, it almost backfired, too many votes went to a marginal and the sure-fire candidate almost lost!
I staggered to vote with a bad sinus infection, and was lucky that the location was next door and I was done in 15 minutes. The turnout in this election was unexpectedly high – a record 58% of registered voters (which seems low to me but is apparently high) – and since many people waited till night to vote, possibly becuase they were waiting for an indication of trends, there were queues for upto four hours in one location. Polling was supposed to end at 10.30 but continued till 2.30 am.
In the end though, I was happy to see all my four preferred candidates got elected in my constituency and also in the super seat. Hong Kong also got its youngest ever Legco member, Nathan Law, the 23-year-old student leader of the Umbrella Movement. While people moan about the degeneration of the youth, I see a lot of active and critically minded youth in Hong Kong. Another two young people advocating independence were also voted in. It’s going to be interesting to see how they can move ahead with some of their action plans.