Having scored quite a remarkable success in the largely rigged election committee polls, the pan-democrats, who account for a quarter of the committee’s membership, are faced with an exquisitely difficult choice of what to do now.
How do they square the circle of becoming participants in an election that they say is rigged or should they opt not to cast a vote and face questions from the people who put them on the committee for the purpose of doing something?
Some members of the democratic camp have adopted the absolutist position of saying that voting in the March poll for chief executive does nothing more than provide credibility for a blatantly undemocratic election system. They are therefore calling for supporters to cast blank ballot papers.
Another alternative would be to cast a vote for the “least worst” of the candidates on offer.
None of them are democrats but two of them are implacably opposed to democratic change, namely Regina Ip, who has confirmed her intention to run, and Carrie Lam, whose confirmation will come shortly.
The powers in Beijing may still prevent former finance secretary John Tsang from running, and even if he does, his democratic credentials are not exactly stellar.
This leaves the other declared candidate, Wu Kwok-hing, who has set out his stall as a middle-of-the-road candidate, open to all sorts of ideas.
Former justice Wu therefore looks as though he qualifies on the “least worst” criteria.
But going for “least worst” is not exactly an alluring prospect, especially when the outcome of the election will be determined in Beijing through its tame surrogates on the election committee.
Thus, Mr. Wu stands no chance of winning and so many people wonder why, even if they can influence his platform, it’s worth squandering a vote for someone who is not even a real democrat.
This leaves the third alternative, which is for the democrats to run a contender of their own, not least because they would have no difficulty in securing the 150 nominations required to place a candidate on the ballot paper.
A major complication here is that the government’s election officers are showing an increasing willingness to screen out candidates who are deemed to be insufficiently patriotic and can be described as opponents of the Basic Law.
Assuming this obstacle can be overcome, there is a strong argument for backing an established democratic personality who, of course, will not win but can use this election as an opportunity to argue the democrats’ case in full.
This was precisely the strategy adopted when Albert Ho ran in the race that put CY Leung in office.
He used the widely viewed television election debates to put his case and often made both Mr. Leung and the hapless Henry Tang look inadequate.
Mr. Ho might however have made it clearer that he did not think he had any prospect of winning but was participating in the race as a part of a campaign to move towards a genuine election for both the chief executive and all members of the legislature.
A democrat in the coming election can learn from the mistakes of Mr. Ho’s campaign and simply ignore the farce of pretending to be running for office and focus entirely on the big issues of the day, which are not confined to constitutional reform but extend to a great many pressing economic and livelihood matters, not forgetting social issues.
Obviously, the candidate would need to be credible, articulate and have an ability to gain support from the public – in other words, the majority of people who voted for democrats in the recent Legco election.
A credible candidate should also aim to extend support beyond this arena because many people who once gave the benefit of the doubt to people like CY Leung now realize that this was a big mistake.
A number of personalities would fit the bill for a candidate of this kind but my preference would be Audrey Eu, who has no personal ambition for high office but, as we have seen, especially when she took on Donald Tsang during a famous television debate about the government’s failed constitutional reform proposals, is devastatingly effective.
She is also likable, which is a pretty important attribute for a successful politician.
I have no idea whether she would be prepared to take on this arduous task but, fortunately, the democratic camp has a number of other plausible candidates, I just happen to think that she would be best.
The worst thing that the democrats on the election committee can do is to cast a blank ballot; this would represent a terrible wasted opportunity and would cause a lot of disillusion among the many people who put them on the committee in the first place.
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