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Thursday, July 16, 2020, 11:01
Opposition hijacks democracy again with 'primary poll'
By Paul Yeung
Thursday, July 16, 2020, 11:01 By Paul Yeung

The opposition camp held a “primary election” over the weekend and claimed it had collected more than 600,000 ballots. That number may have surprised many people, but what this means is far more intriguing than the vote count.

Let’s not overlook the fact that the “primary election” had more than one critical flaw, such as an inability to prevent repeat voting with the same Hong Kong ID card numbers. Ironically, even with those helpful flaws, the number of votes they counted still fell way short of about 1.6 million that its candidates won in the District Council elections last year. That means only about 37.5 percent of the voters who supported the opposition camp took part in the “primary election”. Under the current circumstances, it is safe to believe those 600,000 or so votes came from opposition party members and their loyal supporters. That also means it was not a “primary election” that most people know but a political pep rally.

Why was it not a real “primary election”? Well, for starters, a primary election is usually held within a political party to nominate a candidate for a presidential election. Naturally, that candidate must represent the party’s political philosophy and policy line, which all members of the party are obligated to support wholeheartedly. In this case, however, the opposition camp is not one political party but a bunch of poorly organized groups, a rather weak political alliance at best, in which member groups are all after their own interests instead of a collective agenda. For instance, candidates representing the 35 “pan-democratic” parties in the “primary” went all-out in verbal attacks against one another far more ferociously than against the pro-establishment camp. As a result, the “primary” highlighted conflicts between opposition parties and “independent” runners instead of resolving them.

It ("primary election") was a political pep rally designed by Benny Tai Yiu-ting to advance his “35-plus” plan, which is aimed at rallying support for separatist ambitions disguised as localist advocacy

Secondly, that “primary” had serious procedural flaws. Elections are not defined by votes only. Their value is also measured by procedural justice. In democratic elections every vote counts, but only if every one of them is “clean”. In the opposition “primary”on Saturday and Sunday, however, the lack of effective safeguards was so obvious that the Democratic Party’s electoral affairs officials wrote a letter to the “show runners” of the “primary” on the eve of the poll, complaining about such glaring loopholes as overreliance on ballot box watchers’ integrity to prevent fraudulent practices, such as a voter ID being used to vote repeatedly without the owner’s knowledge, which would jeopardize the credibility of the “primary election”. With so many serious technical flaws unfixed, it is impossible to call the “primary” a democratic election.

If not a “democratic election”, what exactly was the event? It was a political pep rally designed by Benny Tai Yiu-ting to advance his “35-plus” plan, which is aimed at rallying support for separatist ambitions disguised as localist advocacy. One sorry outcome of that political pep rally is that parties known as “moderate democrats” chose to follow a “suicidal path” and abandon their non-radical and relatively pragmatic political approach for better durability. They chose to match their rivals’ radical and often-extremist stunts in order to win the “primary”, but failed to stoop that low. Still, instead of gaining support, they have most likely missed a critical opportunity to become a “loyal opposition” in the future.

What have the “moderate pan-democrats” gained with that political bet? Nothing, but a growing danger of losing everything in the political gamble. If preliminary results of the “primary” seen on Monday are anything to go by, the “old guard” parties won only 29 percent of direct votes. Apparently it was a political pep rally designed to kick the “moderate pan-democrats” out of the “35-plus” campaign and turn the opposition camp into a separatist mob led by self-proclaimed localist groups. By doing so, the “primary” has brought Hong Kong’s democratic quality to a new low for sure; and by staying in the game, the “moderate pan-democrats” can only become radical separatists.

The upcoming election will be a duel between political lines. The “primary” has not made the opposition camp’s prospects any brighter, but definitely spelled doom with intensifying infighting and an unavoidable falling-out. In sharp contrast, the pro-establishment parties remain firmly united under the guidance of the central authorities. They enjoy undeniable majority support, but need to step up concerted efforts in helping the special administrative region government improve the economy and people’s well-being. As long as they have a clear and workable governance guideline and the resolve to implement it efficiently, they have no reason to worry about losing to the rudderless and splintered opposition camp.

The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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