Hong Kong's clique-like chief executive election was held between 9am and 11am on March 25. After only half an hour, it was clear Chief Executive Donald Tsang (
Immediately upon hearing the result and in the presence of all electors, Tsang shed tears before cruising the city in a convertible, thanking Hong Kong citizens for supporting him.
Tsang's tears and his decision to thank his supporters on the streets were unexpected, for he was considered virtually certain to win because of Beijing's backing. Those Hong Kong people whom Tsang "thanked" had no voting rights -- highlighting the hypocrisy of his decision to do so. And the Hong Kong government's fear that the public would launch a protest over the election result was the reason the polling station was located on an offshore island near the international airport.
Beijing appeared excited over Tsang's victory, since it was the result of what Tsang -- in an attempt to cover up the hypocrisy of the election -- claimed to be "the high support for his nomination, the high number of votes received and his high popularity."
The high support and high number of votes received were par for the course, as the 800 electors were appointed in accordance with the Basic Law, which was written to ensure most of them would be Beijing loyalists.
Tsang's support, however, was still not as high as that of his predecessor Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), who was re-elected with over 700 votes in 2002, but despite that ended up being fired by Beijing.
"High popularity" has to do with being well-known, and as Beijing has infiltrated most of the media in Hong Kong, any information the Chinese government promotes or decides to block would be much more effective than the effort Tsang put into his election campaign.
There are three reasons for Tsang's popularity. First, with Hong Kongers still reminiscing about the old days under British colonial rule, Tsang's service under several British governors has boosted his popularity. Second, Tsang is a capable and particularly media-savvy politician. Third, the revival of Hong Kong's economy and the all-time high on the stock market.
Two years ago, Tsang proposed widening the taxation net and introducing a sales tax, but he has now shelved these two proposals and even agreed to reduce taxes in order to please the public.
This Hong Kong poll, however, was different from previous elections.
First, the pro-democracy faction in Hong Kong for the first time nominated its own candidate, joining the system in order to be able to oppose it and establishing a platform to air its views. However, participating in such a narrow election also triggered some controversy, since it implied tacit acceptance of the legitimacy of the system. Although the campaign created some bad blood, the competition helped keep Hong Kongers alert to the fact that this was not a democratic election.
Second, the pro-Beijing faction was compelled to learn how democracy works. Because Leong also participated in the election, Tsang was forced to answer questions on issues of concern to residents, such as when universal suffrage would be allowed. Tsang also emulated Taiwanese politicians and held campaign rallies, although they were only attended by a few thousand people.
Two televised debates between Tsang and Leong also obtained high viewer ratings and struck a chord with the public. It has been said that this would set a precedent for future elections, because it will no longer be enough to simply ingratiate oneself with Beijing.
Beijing accused Leong of pursuing Hong Kong independence, because he advocates amending the Basic Law and abolishing the small-circle election. Just as it likens Taiwan's pursuit of constitutional engineering to an attempt at seeking formal independence, Beijing was trying the same tactic to scare the people of Hong Kong.
When Leong was asked during one of the debates if he was pursuing Hong Kong independence, Leong said: "Anybody who believes that somebody is seeking Hong Kong independence, please clap your hands."
Leong thought nobody would clap and this would get him off the hook. Surprisingly, he was met with warm applause. Some wanted to embarrass him, but others really wanted to get rid of the "birdcage democracy" imposed on Hong Kong by China. Clearly, many Hong Kongers took their chance to declare their views on this issue.
Paul Lin is a political commentator based in Taipei.
Translated by Daniel Cheng
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