An honest vote for money politics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 January, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 January, 1998, 12:00am

The best things in life are free. If you didn't roll up at one of those makeshift poll-registration tables which popped up all over town over the past week, you missed one of the greatest free offers of all time.

Not only did you get the right to vote for free in Hong Kong's first post-handover, post-Patten, post-colonial-era elections - leaving aside the costly fact that you need to have resided in Hong Kong for at least seven years - you were also handed free gifts.

These included free poll-registration campaign tissues, free poll-registration campaign lai see packets (empty) and, best of all, free poll-registration campaign memo pads.

How, if you were eligible, could you resist? Surely, if you had not already jumped the gun and signed up without these inducements, you could not have resisted queueing up to take home this bundle of goodies with your registration.

And if you were eligible to register in a functional constituency, the potential social cachet of turning up at the polling booth with other members of the SAR's tiny voter-elite should have been enough on its own to get you to sign.

Oh dear. It wasn't quite enough after all. Voter registration, despite the Government's efforts, has not quite lived up to expectations.

This column conveniently and correctly jettisoned all cynicism on the night of the handover. Thus, we are unwilling to contemplate the subversive thought that you might have stayed away in droves because you take a thoroughly jaundiced view of an election in which almost two-thirds of the constituencies have been chosen for the likelihood that they will return a legislator with a pro-establishment viewpoint.

We have always been told Hong Kong people are interested only in making money. So we cannot imagine that you hard-working people are remotely concerned that the remaining 20 directly elected councillors can always be overruled, whatever the justice of their position, and whatever their popularity with the electorate.

We certainly cannot bring ourselves to believe that the Government might actually be happier with a low turnout, despite its protestations to the contrary. Such an event would support, once again, the official view that you lot are simply not interested in politics.

We know the administration would not wish to undermine the credibility of the legislature by implying that most of the electorate would rather go fishing, sing karaoke or spend the day at the office.

We here at Week Ending would be solemn indeed if only a few crazy non-Chinese turned out to vote.

And we would not wish to believe that the Government might be laughing all the way to the counting stations.

As we cannot entertain such possibilities, we have given the matter serious thought and come up with a viable alternative. And it is a solution which would not involve compulsory voting.

We must, after all, distinguish our tolerant, democratic society from totalitarian Australia. The Land of Oz not only deprives Chinese swimmers of their human rights by inspecting their luggage at airports, but also fines its citizens if they do not turn out to vote.

The truth is that, in Hong Kong, the best things in life are not considered to be those which are free. If you did not pay for it - preferably through the nose at a charity auction or at a ludicrously overpriced boutique in a prestigious shopping mall - then it simply isn't worth having.

A vote can't be worth anything if it is not up for sale.

Week Ending would therefore like to propose that all votes be auctioned off at a reserve price equivalent to at least the median salary of the potential electorate in the constituency concerned.

This would guarantee 100 per cent registration, even in the geographical constituencies, and revitalise the banking sector at a time when property loans are unpopular with the punters. It would also bring in billions of dollars in additional government revenue.

Better still, in the functional constituency sector, where votes come in strictly limited numbers, a secondary market would soon develop. A vote in the banking constituency, sold by the Government at a modest $20 million, would soon be changing hands at four or five times that price.

Meanwhile, in the financial services, and agriculture and fisheries sectors, constituents suddenly falling on hard times because of economic or avian influenza could sell off their votes at sums large enough to keep them in comfortable retirement for the rest of their lives.

Let's start getting the system in place for the 2000 elections.