Hong Kong: Election bypasses the people

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The Independent Online
Nominations opened yesterday for candidates from Hong Kong hoping to join China's parliament, the National People's Congress.

However, the NPC is not famous for its independence of mind. The carefully selected people who "elect" its members are not expected to be any more independently-minded than those they elect. Fortunately for the organisers, many of the electors are also candidates, so there is less scope for confusion.

Hong Kong is holding its first election for 36 deputies since the change to Chinese sovereignty. As the word election has a different meaning in China from in Hong Kong, there is some discomfort over the fact that only 424 hand-picked people - chaired by Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's new chief executive - are involved in the process.

The number of those voting is not the only difference, as the delegates discovered during a three-day meeting to lay down the rules of election. Even in Hong Kong's pro-Peking circles votes are usually taken by ballot, or by a show of hands. However, the Chinese tradition is to pass resolutions by acclaim, signified by bouts of hand clapping. This does not give dissenters even an opportunity to register disapproval.

The public will not be allowed to see information supplied about the candidates, or even know who nominated them, as on the Chinese mainland, so there was no reason not to apply it in Hong Kong.

The electors are not only confident about the need to preserve exclusive access to information, they are also confident of their incorruptibility. They decided not to devise penalties for election fraud or corruption on the grounds that they were sufficiently self-disciplined not to be tempted into malpractice. It was also decided that candidates with a criminal record need not burden electors with this information. This is just as well, as a number of likely candidates have such records.

- Stephen Vines