• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 4:07am
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 3:20am

Beijing has no need to fear free elections in Hong Kong

Frank Ching says Beijing's fear of free elections may be feeding the mistaken view that pro-establishment politicians lack popular support


Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s bureau in Beijing in 1979 when the U.S. and China established diplomatic relations. Before that, he was with The New York Times in New York for 10 years. After Beijing, he wrote the book Ancestors and later joined the Far Eastern Economic Review.

When Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, tried to negotiate an agreement on electoral arrangements with Beijing two decades ago, he came upon a revelation. "The Chinese style is not to rig elections," Patten said he was told by a veteran colonial official. "But they do like to know the result before they're held."

In the 16 years since the handover, there have been five "elections" for chief executive. China candidly called the first one a "selection", by the Selection Committee. The second and third "elections" each had only one candidate.

The fourth featured Donald Tsang Yam-kuen running for a second term, opposed by Alan Leong Kah-kit, of the Civic Party. Only the 800 Election Committee members could vote. Tsang won, by 649 votes to 123. It was a small-circle election but Leong lagged in opinion surveys, too. There is little doubt that, had the election been held by universal suffrage, the outcome would have been the same.

In the fifth election, in 2012, there were three candidates - former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying and Albert Ho Chun-yan, then chairman of the Democratic Party. Tang was an early front runner but his popularity plummeted after a scandal-ridden campaign and Leung emerged victorious. Ho was an also-ran. Public opinion surveys showed him trailing Tang and Leung throughout the campaign. In all likelihood, if the Hong Kong public could have voted, the outcome would have been similar.

Chinese officials know that their preferred candidate would have won even if the last two elections had been held by universal suffrage. Yet Beijing appears to have strong misgivings about allowing genuine universal suffrage. That is because, as Patten said, the Chinese like to know in advance the outcome of all future elections. That is the very antithesis of democracy.

In fact, democratic elections are sometimes so close that the media get it wrong. The Chicago Tribune famously ran the front-page banner headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" the day after the 1948 presidential election, which Harry Truman won.

The Communist Party should understand that, in life, there is no such thing as absolute certainty. In fact, it has used this argument to chide the US for its missile defence programme, saying that Washington was seeking to achieve "absolute security".

It is unnecessary for the Chinese government to try to have "absolute certainty" that its preferred candidate will win every election in Hong Kong, regardless of who the candidates are and what the issues are.

The past 16 years have shown that pro-establishment candidates are fully capable of winning elections; the pro-establishment camp has more seats in the legislature than the pan-democrats.

Hong Kong voters are not biased against pro-establishment candidates. In fact, opinion surveys in 2007 and 2012 clearly show a lack of public support for the pro-democracy candidates in those elections. There is no need for Beijing to fear genuine elections.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank.ching@scmp.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1


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This article is now closed to comments

It's almost a no-brainer. At present, by resisting calls for free elections and universal suffrage, BJ appears defensive, weak and lacking in confidence - afraid, almost, of HK people. It is also creating a great deal of friction with HK people. By dropping its resistance, BJ would enjoy an over-night surge in popularity among HK people, and would project a confident and self-assured image. Finally, trust would be established and HK could get on with addressing the issues that matter, instead of navel gazing. Or does BJ prefer to see HK divided and weak?
Blimey, other than some of Tom Holland's stuff, this is about the least stupid and laughable thing written in the SCMP for months
In life, there is also no such thing as a free lunch, So certainly, there will be a price to pay for "free" elections.
Let's face it, Chief Executive of HK position should really functionally be just a mayor and Legislative Council should function more like a city council.
The HK politicians have inflated their own egos and importance by giving much higher than necessary value to these positions (CE, Legco membership); thus all one can expect these days are political posturing and grandstanding rather than getting actual formulation, implementation and execution of policies for the benefit and service of HK residents.
hard times !
the majority of the people here
are not pro-establishment ones
as shown by past election results
which were territory-wide
over 50% voted for the
pan-democrats while
the pro-establishment ones
could only get about 40% only
even with the help of the
Liaison Office in the territory !
and free-travelling from Guagndong
back to Hong Kong to vote !
A free election is just too
risky for Beijing regime
whose views of elections
should be those which
results can be assured---100% safe !
Only favourable candidates
are allowed to win in any
major elections !
It is undeniable indeed !
Dear Frank,
Many agree with your plea for democratic elections, but your rationale is a sophistry which appears to be a panegyric for the DAB. Why not simply say that free democratic elections are a desirable end for their own sake for government of the people, by the people, for the people? Money, astutely directed, determines the outcome of elections. The DAB, n reality the CCP in drag, has a huge advantage in funding from the central authorities with all the financial, manpower and logistical support that only a state organisation can command. The DAB can afford to do good works among the working class because they are given the money to do so. On the face of things Hong Kong has a free media, but it is subject to ownership control and just as importantly, subtle self - censorship because of the views of the pro-Beijing owners.
The limited democracy we have is rotten because it is a perverted form of the true thing. The flawed Political Appointments System has degenerated into predictable cronyism and corruption.
Sadly, the Chinese national ruling psyche seems incapable of understanding that power is for another purpose than to benefit those who wield it.
You cannot reason with a tyrant or a bigot.
I agree with mbophui. It matters less that the election might not produce the result I would myself prefer than it should produce the result voted for by the majority of HK people in a free one-person-one-vote election. Only when we have a government accountable to the electorate will we be able to make healthy progress as a vibrant community. Until then, the self interest of the plutocrats and oligarchs will continue to create bitterness and resentment, and a community very much ill at ease with itself.
Exactly. Becuase if he/she failed to listen to the people's wishes and act in their interest, he would be voted out in the next election.
Actually, politcally they are wek and divided, which is the reason they don't have elections on the Mainalnd.
You’re less than right
for if truth be known
an overwhelming majority
could be "pro-establishment"
That’s why many enjoy strolling the gauntlet
of scmp comments and tag dance
among toothless howling wolves *
that flock around the city’s english newspaper
However, to borrow whymak’s remark:
the wise won't follow the fool’s agenda
* Don't confess being thw by which I DON'T mean you




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