Sat, Mar 02, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Hong Kong's shameful farce

On Thursday Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) gained a second five-year term as chief executive of Hong Kong. There was no election, not even a repeat of the sham spectacle Beijing staged in 1997. Tung's "re-election" had been assured since last week, when he was nominated by 714 members of the 800-strong election committee -- whose members are themselves appointees and viewed as little more than Beijing's lap dogs.

Actually, there had been little doubt about Tung's future ever since last fall, when senior Chinese officials began trumpeting their "confidence" in him and their hopes of seeing him gain a second term. The only question was whether anyone would be willing to stand against him. But the formal nomination period closed at 5pm Thursday with Tung as the only candidate. Hardly surprising, given that a candidate had to be nominated by at least 100 members of the election committee. No one in Hong Kong was willing to risk Beijing's anger by standing against its puppet.

To the people of Taiwan, where each and every election is fought almost as a duel to the death, such apathy is almost unimaginable. This reflects the fact that, while Hong Kong and Taiwan may be comparable in terms of economic accomplishments, they are worlds apart in political development and many other respects as well.

What is even more surprising is that Tung was given a second term "on the nod" while having done almost nothing for Hong Kong and being personally extremely unpopular. He has been unable to reverse the economic decline the territory has experienced since it reverted to Beijing's control and he took office. And people in Hong Kong are very unhappy with the rising unemployment rate, drastic drops in real estate prices, the government's mishandling of public health crises and much, much more. Tung's apparent preference for big business and his remoteness from the average person have also been strongly criticized. The fact that Beijing's toadies voted overwhelmingly and without demur to give this travesty of an administrator another term is, given his record, a deliberate slap in the face to Hong Kong's people, a sign intended to show that nobody gives a damn about public opinion.

People often described British-ruled Hong Kong as a place with freedom, but no democracy. The British only allowed elections for some members of the Legislative Council (Legco), while the governor was a political appointee from London. Democratic activists, such as Martin Lee (李柱銘), tried to get the British to allow greater democracy before 1997, but to no avail. Beijing continues to forbid popular elections for the full Legco or the chief executive. As Tung's nomination process clearly shows, the chance of further democratic development in Hong Kong is next to nothing.

Under the Japanese colonial administration and the KMT regime, the people of Taiwan saw far too much bogus democracy, demagoguery and political trickery. The political farce played out in Hong Kong this week showed them more of the same, although in some respects the tactics were even coarser.

But it should always be remembered that the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong languishes was initially designed for Taiwan. Only later was it applied to Hong Kong and Macau. Basically the contempt for the people of Hong Kong manifested by the jerry-rigged electoral system for Legco and the farce that selects the chief executive are all treats in store for Taiwan should it opt to pursue rapprochement on such lines as China wishes. Obviously nobody who cares about Taiwan's representative institutions or its hard-won democratic system would advocate such a thing. So what are we to make of those in Taiwan who do?

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