23 August 2019
Andrew Fung (inset)'s argument that the government's electoral proposal for Hong Kong is more democratic than the system for the US presidential election lacks logic. Photos: HKEJ,
Andrew Fung (inset)'s argument that the government's electoral proposal for Hong Kong is more democratic than the system for the US presidential election lacks logic. Photos: HKEJ,

Proposed electoral system a far cry from American one

Andrew Fung Wai-kwong wrote in an article in the Hong Kong Economic Journal that in US presidential elections, candidates who are neither Republicans nor Democrats can never win or even obtain an electoral vote from a state.

In contrast, Wong, the government’s information coordinator, said, Hongkongers from all walks of life and from all political parties have the right of nomination.

What he meant was that the proposed electoral system the government is asking us to “pocket first” is more open and progressive than the American election system.

I find what Fung said completely ridiculous and misleading.

Those who claim that the US president is not elected through a direct vote and that the candidates are prescreened by the major parties are either ignorant or deliberately trying to mislead the public.

Even though I am just a mediocre employee in the financial industry and seldom talk about politics, this time I feel compelled to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

Firstly, in the US, every citizen can nominate someone else to run for president, and there has never been such a thing as prescreening by the major political parties.

The reason why many people are under the impression that only candidates belonging to the Republican and Democratic parties can run for president is because these candidates and the presidential primaries of the two parties usually draw most of the media attention.

In comparison, independent candidates often receive minimal coverage.

As a matter of fact, in every presidential election in the past, there were always dozens of independent candidates who came from all sorts of political organizations, but few of them came under the spotlight.

There is also something called the “write-in candidate” in the US — voters are allowed to simply write the name of any individual they wish to elect president on the ballot paper, and that is certainly far more open and progressive than a recent proposal that Hongkongers be allowed to cast blank votes.

Secondly, some argue that the presidential election in the US is only an indirect election, while the proposal within Beijing’s framework offers Hongkongers a genuine election, but is that true?

Although there is something known as the “electoral college” in the US, where the president and vice-president are in theory not elected directly by the general voters but by “electors” chosen by popular vote on a state-by-state basis, it has practically become a formality.

That is because members of the electoral college from each state will almost certainly vote for the candidate who has received the most votes from the public in their state in the November election.

So, even though under this mechanism, general voters cast their votes in the presidential election in November and members of the electoral college gather together in December to officially cast their votes to choose the next president, the electoral college is in fact just a rubber stamp.

The outcome is a foregone conclusion because voters have already made their choice in November, and members of the electoral college have to cast their votes according to the result for their state.

Hence, it is without question that the US presidential election is, in practice, a direct election.

Thirdly, Fung said none of the independent candidates in the US presidential elections in the past several decades was able to get even one electoral vote at the state level.

That is true; the last time an independent candidate managed to get the electoral votes of a state was back in 1972.

The reason is simple: the US presidential election has been dominated by the Republicans and Democrats for more than a century, owing to their overwhelming resources, which has given their candidates an almost unfair advantage over independent candidates.

The domination of elections by major political parties is a common phenomenon among western democratic countries, and the US is no exception.

It doesn’t undermine the fact that their elections are still fair, direct and open to anybody.

However, there were times when an independent candidate has played a decisive role in the presidential election.

For example, in the 1992 election, Texas business tycoon Ross Perot managed to take 18.9 percent of the popular votes, making him the most successful independent presidential candidate ever.

More importantly, he managed to win the votes of many traditional supporters of the Republican Party, which led to the failure of president George H. Bush to win his second term.

In the 1992 presidential election, Bill Clinton got 43 percent of the popular vote, while Bush received 37.5 percent.

The result was conclusive in its own right, and the electoral votes were almost irrelevant.

The main point is the US election system allows civil nomination and everyone can stand for election.

Meanwhile, under the proposal that Hongkongers are being asked to “pocket first”, the power to decide who can run for chief executive rests with the 1,200 members of the nomination committee, and the average Hongkonger is completely excluded from the nomination process.

I couldn’t figure out why Fung would claim that the government’s proposal is more democratic.

Where is his logic?

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 27.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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