Dysfunctional suffer as the rich get richer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 March, 1998, 12:00am

The phrase 'vote early and vote often' originated in Ireland, I have always supposed. Brewer's Dictionary of 20th Century Phrase and Fable does not have it at all, possibly supposing it to be earlier in origin.

Safire's New Political Dictionary attributes it to John Van Buuren, a New York lawyer and the son of President Van Buuren. Never heard of either of them? Me neither.

Wherever the origins of this phrase lie, it can scarcely ever have been so applicable - at least without breaking the law - as it is in our current elections.

While some people, having carelessly not bothered to register, do not have a vote at all, others enjoy an embarrassment of riches.

Talking of riches immediately brings to mind those fortunate gentlemen who registered small collections of companies as members of the Real Estate Developers' Association, no doubt wishing to subsidise the activities of this important body without committing the immodesty of making a personal donation to its funds.

It transpires that all the pillars of Cayman Islands corporate society who so joined the association can now enjoy a vote in the forthcoming election. I suppose this just shows what an international city Hong Kong is: having long ago enfranchised Swiss banks and German insurance companies, we are now demonstrating our commitment to the Third World.

But you do not have to be a plutocrat or a property company to find that your constitutional life is getting complicated.

The other week I received a letter from the twig of the civil service which keeps track of these things, informing me of my progress in becoming a serial voter.

I am, as I expected, on the register for the place where I live. I am also, unsurprisingly, still on the register as a voter in the education functional constituency.

This is not a huge privilege. When offering the figure for the number of people who can vote in functional constituencies the Government seldom adds that the vast majority of them are in one constituency - mine. There are tens of thousands of us.

I also discovered that I have a vote in something called the EC election. This apparently is the election which will produce the election committee. There is a higher education sector to the committee and I am, it seems, one of the people electing it.

I must say this comes as a bit of a surprise. I had not applied for such a vote and there was no mention of it in the registration form.

Still, any candidate for this section of the election committee who wishes to bend my ear about his or her suitability for high office is welcome to do so, particularly if he plies me with strong drink at the same time.

Now you might think that for most of us, who do not own fragments of the Cayman Islands, three votes would be enough. But strictly speaking that is not the end of it.

We are all members of clubs and organisations of one kind or another. Many of them have been invited to do their bit in the EC polls, and some of them have accepted the invitation.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association, some months ago, solemnly asked all its members whether they wished to continue to sail under the flag of trade unionism, or preferred to have the HKJA transfer its registration to the cultural Caymans.

I did not feel strongly one way or the other. I do not remember what we decided. But at least we considered it. None of the other clubs and societies of which I am a member has said a word on the subject.

I suspect they have all decided, actually, to sit this one out. I had much sympathy for the gentleman who wrote to the Post to say that his club (of the sporting persuasion) had no political functions and its members did not wish to know what their fellows' political preferences were. They had decided not to vote.

This should perhaps have been expected. It is really not surprising that there seems some danger of the election committee coming up short of the expected numbers. If people want to join a political organisation they can join a party. Organisations with other purposes may well regard politics as an unwelcome intrusion.

This is a distressing situation, because in the end it is going to produce some councillors who are lame ducks before they take their seats.

I do have one piece of good news for our electoral architects, though, which I stumbled across in one of the early works of A J P Taylor. It used to be said that functional constituencies were a legacy from Mussolini's Italy.

This is a slanderous calumny. Mussolini picked up the idea from a previous user. Actually, functional constituencies are a legacy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Doesn't that make you feel better?