Wed, Jun 01, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Critics lambaste election charade in Hong Kong

POLITICAL THEATER Everyone expects Donald Tsang to become the next leader because they think he's backed by Beijing -- but he's still campaigning


It looks like a real political campaign. The front-runner quits his job to stump full time. He sets up a campaign office. Newspapers fill their front pages with headlines about major figures endorsing him.

But scratch away the thin veneer of electioneering, and the event looks like a political charade disguising the fact that there's no real contest. Everyone expects Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) to win the July 10 three-way race because he's widely believed to have the blessing of Beijing.

"The bottom line is, all you can do is laugh about it," said opposition lawmaker Emily Lau (劉慧卿). "The whole thing is a show."

"In reality there is just one candidate," Lau said.

The election is a product of a partially democratic political system that critics say gives Beijing too much control over the territory. While Hong Kong enjoys Western-style civil liberties, the British never allowed full democracy. China has continued that tradition under a "one country, two systems" formula that's supposed to give Hong Kong a large degree of autonomy.

Hong Kong's leader is picked by an 800-member committee that tends to side with China. Only half of its 60 legislators are elected -- special interest groups choose the rest. Still, the government and Beijing are trying to make the race look real by meticulously following election rules.

Tsang, a career bureaucrat, was serving as Hong Kong's acting leader or chief executive, filling in for Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), who quit in March citing poor health. But Tsang tendered his resignation last week when he announced his candidacy. The law doesn't allow him to campaign while on the job.

Although Tsang is clearly Bei-jing's choice, the communist government has yet to complete a required formality by approving his decision to resign.

It should be a simple decision, but China's Cabinet has taken about a week to rubber stamp it -- creating the impression that there's serious deliberation.

Tsang has refrained from campaigning as he awaits Beijing's word. There are no "Tsang for Leader" signs, no workers wearing campaign buttons.

He's been on TV, feeding fish in his pond at home. Newspaper photos showed him spending time with relatives and wearing jeans as he tends to gardening.

Bold headlines have announced endorsements from business leaders and officials, as if they'll have a big effect on his election chances.

Then there are his weak opponents -- opposition lawmaker Lee Wing-tat (李永達) and legislator Chim Pui-chung, an ex-convict. Neither is expected to get the 100 nominations needed to get on the ballot.

Polls have also consistently shown Tsang as the public's favorite candidate.

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai (羅沃啟),noted the irony of the improbable candidates -- Lee and Chim -- holding public events while the expected victor, Tsang, keeps a low profile.

"Everything is absurd," he said.

"There is no real election. There is no real competition. The entity that can do the most in the election is not any candidate, but the central Chinese government," Law said. "What we are doing in Hong Kong is formality."

Law said citizens are victims of the highly controlled process.

"Hong Kong people are most affected by this election, but now they are the most marginalized," he said.

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