Last week, I voted for the first time in Hong Kong. As a permanent resident (something akin to a green card holder), I’m entitled to vote and I registered as a voter promptly.
Hong Kong holds democratic elections to the district councils, which like the municipal corporations except that they are more advisory than executive (since it is the government bureaus that actually executive the work as far as I know), and the Legislative Council, but not to the highest office, the Chief Executive, who is elected by a cherry-picked electoral college.
Last year’s Umbrella Movement was triggered by the demand for universal suffrage for the Chief Executive election. While that demand was stonewalled by the powers that be in Beijing, the result is that Hong Kong society has become more politically aware and this election was seen as a test case. The voter turn-out was expected to be high, and it hit a record 47% (1,468,000 registered electors). Honestly, I thought more people in a city with 100% literacy would vote. 47% seems pretty poor to me, and this is only of registered voters, who do not comprise the total population. For example, V was eligible but did not register.
I, however, am an enthu cutlet about elections. I registered to vote in India almost as soon as I turned 18, without anyone nagging me to do so. To get me to get my driver’s licence, however, required some cajoling on my mother’s part. I guess I’ve always been politically inclined, and when I moved to Hong Kong, I got into Hong Kong politics. It’s a very interesting time to be in Hong Kong if you, like me, have somewhere to run if it all goes bad (which means if Hong Kong becomes just another Chinese city under the CCPs thumb); if you have nowhere to run, the impending reality is scary and thus, last year’s protests. I admire Hongkongers, particularly the youth, for their desperate bids to retain their city’s independence and identity with whatever tools they can device from the box. The protests last year were creative and inspiring, even if the wealthy grumbled about the disruptions to their regular commute.
I had four candidates to choose from for the district council election, one of whom never bothered to campaign much and so I have no idea who he was. One guy stood at the entrance to the MTR station every morning and evening, waving at commuters, which did make me feel that at least he cared to put in that time and effort. Another guy did the same, but for just one day. He was affiliated to a pro-democracy party and would have had my vote if he had made more of an effort. In the end, I voted for our building committee chairman, who although didn’t seem to do face-to-face campaigning bothered to send an email in English with his manifesto, which included everything I could have thought of for improvement of the district. Since we moved here, the district has really improved – we now have a beautiful waterfront promenade/cycling track and a public library and sport facility. I know the building committee lobbied for some of these things, and our estate itself is excellently run.
On the day of the election, V started giving me gyan on who I should vote for, which I thought was rich coming from a guy who declares himself cycnical about the democratic process enough to have not registered to vote. I pointed that out and he shut up. A couple of days before he had thrown my polling card into the rubbish by mistake, thinking it was just more bureaucratic mail and got a earful for that.
The election was held in a local college. I went early, and trailed in with the grandmas and grandpas. I presented my ID card, my name was checked off a list and I was handed a form with the four canditates name and a stamp with a tick mark which I had to put against one name before folding my ballot and placing it inside a box. The whole thing took two minites. Quite similar to India, actually, except that in India the voting room is more secretive (here there were just a series of partitioned spaces.
Outside, a girl with an iPad asked me to participate in an exit poll. Honestly, she wasn’t very aggressive at approaching people and only came to me because I caught her eye. Most of these polls are conducted by pro-government parties, who I do not support, but I’m a sucker for polls. That done, I sat outside and watched for a bit. Noone else agreed to do the poll. Heh.
After voting, I felt this smug glow of satisfaction that I had done something, participated in something bigger than myself that could influence events bigger than me, albeit in a small way. I am aware that democracy doesn’t solve everything – India is a prime example, but India is also a prime example of the power of democracy. Stuart Hall has an essay on how people vote based on parameters that are not necessarily intelligent, and while I take his point, when one has so little power, however, you take what you get. Especially when it isn’t too much effort.
In the end, my guy won. That made me feel happy too.