Will voter support usher in a more assertive DAB?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am


In the days when the democrats routinely won elections, life was much simpler for the people who run Hong Kong, a non-elected elite who work on the assumption that election results have nothing to do with them and, so, whatever the outcome, it's business as usual. They knew that in places like the legislature, the democrats' presence could easily be nullified by the serried ranks of rotten borough representatives.

Now it appears that pro-government parties can also triumph at the polls and this greatly complicates things.

While the democrats were winning elections, officials went around bewailing the 'immaturity' of the electorate. It is, however, rather problematic to argue that the electorate is 'immature' and 'unrealistic' when it goes out and votes for so-called pro-government candidates.

The term 'pro-government' was all fine and dandy for the parties that had an essentially client relationship with the government. This meant that those who had little chance of gaining elective office were slotted into non-elected positions by way of government patronage. As a result, the recipients felt obliged to be supportive of their patrons.

However, the boot is on the other foot when these parties start winning elections. Indeed, even members of the Liberal Party have shown themselves capable of winning non-rotten-borough elections. Thus, the so-called pro-government parties now have a mandate which they will use to remind their former patrons that they have demands that need to be met. Lamentably, the emboldened pro-establishment camp is more likely to use its influence to shore up its own position than for the good of the people.

This pro-establishment camp is not a single entity. The conflicting interests within its ranks give scope for the bureaucrats to play one section of the camp against the other. But there is a limit to this manipulation because it is now clear that there is only one really important member of the 'pro-government camp' and that is the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Not only is the DAB a highly capable election machine but, because of its strong links to the Communist Party, it has its own ways of accessing the big bosses in Beijing. Hitherto, the DAB has loyally, but not without reservations, been forced to witness a long succession of British cast-offs occupy the prime positions in the new Hong Kong. Now its members have every reason to be more assertive. An early test of this will be whether they can be mobilised to support Henry Tang Ying-yen, the bureaucracy's candidate for the post of chief executive, when one of their own allies, Leung Chun-ying, is also vying for the post.

Another aspect of the DAB's predominance may become more apparent because of its origins as a Marxist organisation. In Hong Kong's bizarre political system, the DAB has ended up as a defender of the big capitalists but there are still people in its ranks who feel uncomfortable about this and may well be emboldened to revert to their origins, and start to show more support for the working class.

It has been argued that the democratic process may be accelerated now that it has been discovered that democrats don't necessarily benefit from elections. This is a bit optimistic because the bureaucrats really hate elections with a passion, as they know that not one of them could win a free and fair contest.

Moreover, if they look more carefully at the results of Sunday's district council polls, they will discover that, in terms of the popular vote - that is, the total number of votes cast, the democrats barely lost ground, indeed the Democratic Party's share of the popular vote actually increased by 18 per cent, while that of the DAB shrank by 4 per cent. Yet, because of the way election boundaries are drawn, the results were a bonanza for the pro-establishment camp.

This is the reality of the election and suggests no cause for complacency among the democrats. On the contrary, what happened last Sunday should be a wake-up call for them. If it turns out to be so, this means another headache for the government.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur