IT has begun again. With a few hours to go before members of the stock exchange vote for five new members of the exchange council, the election has degenerated. According to those involved, lists of favoured candidates are once again being distributed to voters - a practice that was supposed to have ceased after last year's farce - as candidates make last-ditch attempts to sway wavering voters. Last year's lists carried Chinese poems at the top of the page on subjects such as loyalty to a cause and friends pulling together. It will be interesting to see if the poems have changed this year. These lists illustrate the iniquities of the election. The mechanics are in place for a democratic vote based on one seat-one vote and conducted by secret ballot. But everyone knows the system is having rings run around it. Block voting, psychological arm twisting, peer pressure and banana republic tactics are the distinguishing characteristics of this election. The democratic ambitions of the exchange have been steam-rollered. As if that were not dirty enough, the election has taken an O. J. Simpsonesque turn with race being used by one faction of category C members against the other. Syed Bokhary, a small domestic broker who happens to be from Pakistan, is being lambasted by members of the Chen Po-sum camp for not being Chinese. It is their contention that his ethnic origin precludes him from representing the views of Hong Kong brokers and they are making sure voters are made very aware of his racial background. 'They're saying I'm not Chinese and playing the race card,' Mr Bokhary said. Mrs Choi is getting desperate. Her desire for power is extreme. She has, according to industry insiders, muscled her way to a position of responsibility within the smaller broking community. She conducted a high-profile fight with Chim Pui-chung to become Legco representative for the financial services industry and lost. She is no longer on the council, although she used to regard it as her private domain. It still is to a great extent seeing as it is stuffed with her proteges, but she is not in there herself and she wants to be. Nevertheless, playing the race card is a bizarre ploy. Mr Bokhary has been in business as a sole proprietor on Hong Kong's exchange for 25 years - longer than Mrs Choi herself. One senior official in the industry said he speaks Cantonese 'better than Mrs Choi', whose accent, the official said, 'was very countrified'. This is not to say Mr Bokhary is a helpless babe when it comes to election tactics. He can street fight with the best of them, but chooses to keep things impersonal. The regression of the electoral process is a sad affair. The election was supposed to be clean and democratic, sending a message of confidence to domestic and international brokers alike. Instead, it has become more of a playground than a political arena. But will the voters fall for it? Every attempt has been made to woo them. There have been no bribes - unless you call a free lunch and as much Henessy XO as you can drink bribery. But the onus is on the brokers. The election is by secret ballot, and at the end of the day members can consume as much cognac and fried duck as they like courtesy of one of the factions, but still vote with their consciences. As things stand, the vote this afternoon will see Alan Smith cruising to victory in Category A. He has taken a laissez-faire stance, calling for less regulation - a popular clarion call for all true Hong Kong stockbrokers. Who will join him there is still open to question. Philip Tose is being mentioned by participants as a possibility, though he obviously ranks the election well down his list of priorities seeing as he has been out of town for the past week or so and will not be here on election day either. S. B. C. Warburg's Patrick Sun is felt to be a little distanced from the broking community, but has generated respect for his published comments and is tipped to succeed. Fellow Hong Kong candidate, Eric Mak of W. I. Carr, has failed to impress, brokers said. He has made it clear he is only there because the nomination committee selected him and he has made little attempt to publicise his manifesto. Asked about the plight of smaller brokers, he replied: 'I don't really know them.' William Philips at Salomon Brothers is making a strong finish. Brokers appear to admire his charisma and believe he will add a bit of energy to a council that was, in the words of one senior broker, 'like Miss Havisham's bedroom'. B. Z. W.'s Huw Jenkins is the only Category A member to have thrown a press conference to talk about his manifesto and by all reports did so pretty well. He seems able to mediate between the interests of small and large brokerages well. Credit Lyonnais' Gary Coull said: 'In Category A we're not that fussed who wins as the issues are the same. That's why we haven't gone out there politicking and grandstanding.' That is why the real interest is in Category C, where politicking and grandstanding have become a fine art - the art of war, that is. The intensity of the fight has been illustrated by the tactics to which certain candidates have sunk. Mr Bokhary described his state of mind as 'genuinely quietly confident' and said he has noticed a shift in his favour as brokers have understood that a biased council acts in no one's interests but its own. Mrs Choi could not be contacted, but is understood to be handing out copies of her manifesto, much the same as she did at the party to celebrate the ninth anniversary of the stock exchange last Monday - a move that raised more than a few eyebrows. It should be a fascinating contest. Mrs Choi could be toppled by the pretenders. The council - an effective Star Chamber - may be forced to sit up and pay attention to the newly elected educated arrivistes . The brokers may revolt if their needs are not met. By the end of today it will be all over. To an extent it already is - bar the counting. But attention will start to focus once again on the election system itself. After last year's embroglio, the exchange promised a review of the system. This it did - and concluded that the system was just fine as it was. This year has demonstrated that is not the case. The system is as flawed as the tactics.