Law & Crime Opinion Politics & Protest

How to effectively cheat in a Hong Kong election… without breaking the law

If you live anywhere near Shatin you have seen his face. A young man, wearing glasses, apparently going for the Harry Potter look. Sometimes he shares the poster, or minibus ad, with another gentleman, who is our District Council representative. Also present, the DAB logo.

Chan Tan Tan is not a District Council member. So what is going on here? Well, basically, the DAB is cheating, though without breaking the law. The same thing happened in the last Legco election in 2016.

陳壇丹 CHAN Tan Tan

Chan Tan Tan. Photo: Facebook.

Posters and publicity for people appeared long before the campaigning period began. There were no explicitly political slogans attached to them, but in due course, it turned out that the person whose picture you had been seeing every day was, in fact, the pro-government candidate in your constituency.

This is an expensive way of getting some extra name recognition. It is, though, perfectly legal. The limit on election expenses starts when you are nominated. Before that you are merely a “prospective candidate” and if you like seeing your face on the side of a minibus that is OK as long as you don’t describe yourself as a “candidate”.

In the old days when the list of candidates was not censored by government officials, you could say there was nothing unfair about this. Pro-government candidates, or prospective candidates, were only doing what any other candidate could do.

polling station vote democracy

Photo: In-Media.

Of course, less well-heeled candidates might struggle to afford large public displays, but there are cheaper options. However, times have changed. Potential candidates who do not enjoy the support of the government do not know whether they are candidates or not until the Returning Officer has pruned the list.

Pro-government candidates do not have to worry about this. They are in no danger of disqualification. Candidates who are not pro-government, on the other hand, may find that they are also not candidates. So efforts made before the nomination period will be wasted.

This is unfair. No doubt people who like the arrangement will say that it makes no difference because the advertising is all removed when campaigning starts.

But this is not true. It is true of posters, hoardings and such like, because when you stop paying for them the owner of the space takes them down. The owners of minibuses are not so quick. If you plaster your picture on a minibus it stays there until someone else pays for the space.

One of our local minibuses is still advertising the Liberal losers from the last Legco election. On a minibus there is a good chance that the ad you paid for will stay long after the period you booked.

red minibus

A red minibus. Photo: Wikicommons.

In my constituency, we are waiting for a by-election. In fact, we are waiting for two, one of which will not materialise for some months because there is a legal issue over the vacancy. But I suppose they will be held together because this improves the chances of the DAB snagging at least one of the vacancies.

In the meantime, we are two councillors short. And it is an open secret that the Harry Potter look-alike is going to be the DAB’s candidate to fill one of these gaps.

This is only one of the ways in which Hong Kong’s elections look increasingly bent.

The trouble with fixing the elections is that if people cannot express their views legitimately through elections then they will resort to other means. I recall warning after the end of the Umbrella thing that the young people who had discovered that street protests were ignored might turn to other measures which the government would find even less acceptable.

In fact, being a non-violent and generally respectable group, most of the former leading Umbrella-wavers turned to electoral politics. Indeed this was a course urged on them by many older commentators, who wrote that street protests were mere playing at politics; those who wished to change society should engage in the real thing and get elected, which they did.

Many of them have now been unelected. Now, to official horror, people are asking the US Senate to reconsider its recognition of Hong Kong as a separate entity from China. This is a desperate measure, but you shouldn’t complain if you have frustrated the non-desperate measures.

Can you hear the people sing? Not if your ears are glued to the liaison office keyhole.

How to effectively cheat in a Hong Kong election... without breaking the law