Commentary on current issues: Scroll down for list of topics
Click arrow for link to reports
Written remarks delivered to the Hong Kong University School of Law/National Democratic Institute for International Affairs Conference 21 April 2012: What is happening to our political system?
Implications of Chief Executive election for, and implications of the upcoming Legco election
Michael E. DeGolyer
I Implications of 2012 Chief Executive election on 2012 Legco election
1. Obviously the Legco election will be taking place within a time period of heightened attention to the new Chief Executive and his actions. Initiatives by the new Chief Executive will likely have an unusually large effect on these elections.
2. The incoming Chief Executive has already announced actions with impact on the elections:
A. Housing moves he supports (increased HOS, increased public housing, sandwich class support) are unlikely to have effect by September, but could if Leung simply bans mainland buyers of Hong Kong property, a tactic he has said he favors. This could have big negative impact on prices, however and with mainland interests, and thus further alienate tycoons, wealthy, and some-pro Beijing groups who may begin attacking Leung for “imperious” and ill-advised haste in making changes. Public may be swayed, or may feel these opposing groups are defending their business interests versus Hong Kong interests. Leung can certainly argue that he is favoring the grassroots and wants to address the wealth gap and government-business collusion. Even the beginnings of action on housing could have effect of lowering criticism of Leung, and undercut criticisms of pan-democrats.
To download the full report, go to "Download reports" link above.
While parties control the lion’s share of votes in the 1200 member Chief Executive Election Committee, section A of Part IV shows that a large proportion of the public does not cite a party as best representing their interests, or they don’t know which one does. As with the parties, questions posed to respondents about their preferences for Chief Executive if they could vote show a significant proportion who say they Don’t Know, and in the latest survey, about one in five who reject the three candidates remaining in the race at this point.
Table 16 in section B of Part IV indicates that among every category of party preference as representing respondent’s interests best, whether it is pro-establishment, pro-democracy, pro-labour or those who prefer None of the above or Don’t Know, a plurality, but not a majority, of voters lean toward C.Y. Leung. Ironically, it is among the pro-labour supporters that Leung comes closest to a majority at 50 percent, but this is the grouping of parties that either condemns and boycotts the Chief Executive Election Committee or wants to cast a blank ballot in protest (League of Social Democrats, People’s Power and Confederation of Trade Unions). Those who say the pro-establishment parties (DAB, FTU, Liberals and New People’s Party) represent them best appear the most evenly divided between the two establishment candidates of Tang and Leung, while those citing the pro-democracy group (Democratic Party and Civic Party) as representing them best appear the most evenly fragmented among Tang, Leung, Ho, and None of the above. The pro-democracy FC registered voters support Leung less than those among the general public who say either the Democratic Party or the Civic Party best represents them (39 percent versus 23 percent). But generally, the FC voter’s preferences appear fairly reflective of the general public’s sentiments. There is nearly unanimous support for the candidates to hold televised debates and public forums.
Acceptance by the central authorities of the Democratic Party’s proposed amendment of the constitutional reform bill is a compromise that will very likely avert the potential disaster of violence against the government. The report on the download page of this website, “To the Brink” shows clearly that public opinion of groups critical to Hong Kong’s stability such as students and men under age 30 had taken dangerous turns toward confrontation with the government. Anyone who has seen how the LSD and other protesters have treated Democratic Party members since their historic AGM vote on Monday to back the compromise reform bill realizes now that a significant number of people have been frustrated beyond reason by the failures and unfairness of the current governing system.
The compromise will lessen some of these tensions and redirect them toward pro-democracy groups instead of the Central Government. But it is very important to realize that these strong emotions and confrontative tactics are symptoms of the rot in our governance system. The compromise reform will begin to address some of those problems, but they by no means cure them. The problem of accountability to the people and of responsiveness of the government to people’s pressing needs will not be solved by this reform. The addition of more popularly elected seats will merely begin to redress the gross imbalances in the system that favor the interests of the very few, very rich over all others.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang and Civic Party leader Audrey Eu debated constitutional reform last night. Right at the start the Chief Executive showed how misinformed he was by citing the Director of this research project as a member of the Civic Party. I am glad he is, at least, reading some of the reports. But I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Civic Party. Further, the Civic Party has NEVER commissioned the Hong Kong Transition Project to conduct surveys for it. And even further, I have debated the Civic Party in public over some of its policies and, for example, disagreed very publicly, in no uncertain terms, about its plan to hold a by-election "referendum" by having some of its members resign alongside the LSD (League of Social Democrats). While it is true that one of the members of the research project, Dr. Kenneth Chan Ka-Lok is a member of the Civic Party, he is barred from participating in the drafting of the questionnaire and of the report of any survey even if commissioned by other NGOs which in any way concerns the Civic Party or policies advocated or criticized by the Civic Party. The Hong Kong Transition Project is an independent project funded by a mix of non-governmental organizations, academic research grants, and commissioned research on policies not related to political development, such as environmental issues.
A new report "Before the Legislative Council Votes on Constitutional Reform: Avoidable confrontation or inevitable conflict?" will be released to the download reports page of this website on 10 June, 2010. The report finds rising levels of dissatisfaction and growing willingness to confront the government of Hong Kong and the Central Peoples Government. Men and youth are particularly dissatisfied and significant numbers are willing to engage in confrontative actions, up to and including blockading government offices and engaging in hunger strikes. Blocking offices and roads could very well provoke a strong reaction from the Hong Kong police, who have been increasingly aggressive in their treatment of demonstrators. The prospects for violence in Hong Kong have been growing over the last 6 months, with a precipitating event in January 2010 that triggered strong protests not seen in Hong Kong for many years. Arrests and injuries have taken place with increasing frequency at protests. The report will present findings from a random survey taken 6-15 May this year. Further reports will be posted on this website as the situation in Hong Kong takes a more and more serious turn.
The report, "Birdcage or Framework? Considering what comes next in constitutional reform" was released this morning at the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Central Hong Kong at 9:30 this morning. The report, 155 pages long, exhaustively details why Hong Kong needs to fix its governance system. Hong Kong has the world's largest demonstrations by proportion of population. The two demonstrations in 2003 and 2004 of around half a million would be equivalent to the US having a demonstration involving just over 21 million people. On mainland China, the same proportion of population would have 105 million demonstrating, a number larger than the entire populations of France, or Britain or Italy, or even Germany. Hong Kong's extraordinary degree of discontent is wholly internally focused on the Hong Kong government and legislative system, not the "one country, two systems" framework governing relations between Hong Kong and the mainland.
The two main sources of discontent are in the widespread and deep perceptions that government policy making is not fair and that no one cares or acts on resident's greatest problems of personal concern. Neither any political party nor the government or Chief Executive perform well enough to satisfy a majority. People's trust in the system and its leaders in the Executive branch or the parties has been badly damaged by the current system. Businessmen note with dismay that the government cannot get development proposals into effect in any kind of reasonable timeframe. When decisions are made, the public react strongly, and government backs down, nearly every time. So something is broken with the system, and this report shows exactly what that is.
On 2 July the Hong Kong Transition Project will release a major (155 pages) briefing at the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Hong Kong. We'll be posting the report (or a link to it for a download site) on the Reports page of this site. It will also be available at other sites, such as ndi.org. It's not only a big report, but full of the latest research on the political development of Hong Kong. We have a list of links in the notes of the reports (later we'll be posting those as an annotated list on the Links section above).
For today, I'm off to Canada to join long time project member and prolific researcher Professor Sonny Lo Shiu Hing in what looks like a very interesting conference at University of Waterloo. If I'm lucky and Sonny's wife lets him fly back to Hong Kong for third time this year, Sonny will join me in releasing the report. I'll be back in time to do some observation and photography of the upcoming 1 July march in Hong Kong, and to view the counter march by pro-government groups, which will be joined for the first time by the Chief Executive Donald Tsang himself. So 2 big marches on 1 big day, followed by 1 big report on What Comes Next. So please stay tuned!
By Michael DeGolyer
I got up well before 6 am that Sunday morning and began grading a stack of student papers. Final exams started on the coming Tuesday, but everyone had been having an increasingly difficult time concentrating on their studies. The tensions in Tiananmen Square had been building for weeks, and it was just as much an aurora of concern as much as the papers that had prodded me out of bed long before dawn. This was before the Internet made instant news a matter of course and even before cable television brought world news at the press of a button. The only alternative in Hong Kong then was either BBC World Service or RTHK Radio 3, the only two English language news channels available, and neither had a news program on when I woke up. But at 6:00 am I could expect at least a few minutes update, and maybe I would find out then whether anything had happened in the square.
The news at 6 opened with sound files of bullets and screaming, then a voiceover of the announcer stating Chinese troops had cleared the square and there had been an unknown number of casualties, with reports still coming in. After news bulletin, instead of music, the announcers kept the lines open for listeners to call in. Some did with reports they had received by fax and phone. Others simply responded to the events that had fastened all eyes on Beijing for weeks. A week earlier vast crowds marched all over Hong Kong in support of the students. I had watched thousands march past my balcony in Shatin, a New Town in the New Territories north of Central Hong Kong on the Kowloon Peninsula. The center of Hong Kong had witnessed a massive march of great emotion. And that morning, all morning, listeners called in, some crying, all deeply moved and many afraid for what this crackdown might mean for Hong Kong's future. For we in Hong Kong were not mere observers, not just horrified onlookers. Were we watching what the future rulers of Hong Kong would do to us if challenged too far? The prospects for Hong Kong's handover to Chinese rule on 1 July 1997 appeared bleak.
By the Director, Michael DeGolyer
Don McMillen and I came to Hong Kong in 1988 to join the rapidly expanding Hong Kong Baptist College, as it was then called. Don was the original founding director of the project and I took over directing when he returned to Australia in 1993. The Hong Kong Government effectively assumed control of the college in 1984 from its religiously affiliated founders and made it part of the University Grants Committee system of universities in Hong Kong. Today, as Hong Kong Baptist University, it makes up one of the eight universities in the UGC system, joining Hong Kong University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong, the Open University of Hong Kong and Lingnan University. Don, now at University of Southern Queensland, was a well established China scholar. I was just three years out of graduate school at the Claremont Graduate University, with an interest in comparative and historical political economy. Interactions between state and market formed the core of my academic interests.