The Hong Kong Election Committee, the Pan-Democrats and How Not To Screw Up
The pan-democrats have done well in the vote for members of the Election Committee, the body of people who will vote to determine who will be the next Chief Executive of Hong Kong. They won 326, seats more than 25 percent of the total, for them an unprecedented achievement. And they accomplished this by appealing to professionals, an excellent base for any political movement.
Their challenge in the coming weeks is to effectively convert this win into solid political gains. Sadly there are already signs of uncertainty and confusion about strategy, with reports that some wish to return a blank ballot, allegedly ‘out of principle’, along with speculation they may run a candidate of their own.
These are the issues they should be debating:
Straightforward: to secure the election of a Chief Executive whose manifesto most closely matches the pan-democrats’ own policy goals.
1. Field their own candidate
Challenging because, a) there is no obviously credible runner within their ranks and, b) even if such is found there could be difficulties persuading more than 300 people to agree the final choice, or even whether a candidate should be running at all, given, c) their candidate has little chance of winning.
However, there are potential upsides: a) a strong performance by a pan-democratic candidate would reinforce the newly found credibility of the movement and, b) would potentially undermine the vote share and therefore the credibility of the winner.
But there is a significant potential downside: an ineffectual candidate who would damage the credibility of the pan-democratic movement.
2. Maximise their influence on the outcome
To be achieved by trading their voting bloc with pro-establishment candidates in return for adoption by a successful pro-establishment candidate of policies advocated by the pan-democrats.
Challenging because, a) it is notoriously difficult to get pan-democrats to formulate, let alone agree upon, any policy beyond ‘universal suffrage now’, which is a policy in the gift only of Beijing and, b) many pan-democrats have difficulty grasping that such trading and compromise is an essential component of the political process.
Potential upsides: this would give them a major influence on the outcome of the election for the next Chief Executive, a huge achievement; this influence would be compounded if there are three or more pro-establishment candidates chasing 1,194 votes but lessened if there are only two or just one.
There is one significant potential downside: a candidate’s campaign promises are not necessarily honoured when in office.
3. Blank ballots
Challenging? Not at all. Doing nothing is the pan-democrats’ default position.
Potential upside: a fleeting moment of deluded self-righteousness.
Potential downsides: where to begin? It would, a) cause jubilation among pro-establishment candidates, who would have no reason to bother about the pesky views of pan-democratic members of the Election Committee, b) it would be an abdication of responsibility to those who had elected them to the committee in order to serve their interests, and, c) it would be an abdication of responsibility to the wider public, who may have entertained hopes of positive outcomes from pan-democratic representation, and, d) it would not even impact the perceived success of the winner, as the victory would be trumpeted on the basis of percentage of votes cast, and, e) it would look simply pathetic and impotent.
The only rational option is number 2, to use the influence of their success to persuade a winning candidate to adopt some of their policy positions. Even if these promises were not subsequently honoured, it would provide the pan-democrats with considerable moral force in Legco, way more effective than raising a yellow umbrella.
If they successfully implement option 2 they will prove that more than 19 years after the reversion of sovereignty they are finally maturing as a political movement. If they fail it will be a massive screw up and a huge disappointment. They should try to avoid that.