While you were paying attention to the Policy Address and other trivia, the government slipped an interesting announcement out under the public’s nose. Or at least I think it did. The Post managed a confusing paragraph which started: “The government has proposed increasing the electoral expenses limit for the 2017 Chief Executive election from HK$13 million from the previous HK$16.3 million because of rising costs.” I suppose that what the paper intended to say was that the proposal was to lift the limit from HK$13 million to HK$16,3 million. Do they still have sub-editors? The second half of the paragraph recorded Emily Lau’s opposition to the move. And that was it.

Now, let us look at the election. There are and must only be (see Basic Law) 1,200 electors. This suggests that the candidate, assuming he has $16 million to waste, can donate, or treat, each voter with HK$13,583. This is surely grotesquely excessive. And actually the situation is worse than that. Only 601 votes are needed to win, so a candidate who is careful to identify voters who are persuadable and disregard the others can increase his spending per vote to HK$27,000. An interesting pastime offers itself here: how many CE electors can you think of who would vote for Pol Pot if they would be paid HK$27,000 for doing so?

Photo: HKFP.

I do not suppose there is any danger of the election being corrupted. We all remember that in the closing stages of the last campaign some electors complained that they had not been told who to vote for. This deficiency was swiftly remedied and that was how we got Lufsig. The fact is that a large group of electors — whether they are actually a majority is immaterial — will vote according to instructions from the Liaison Office. Without support from this quarter no candidate stands a chance. With it, no candidate can lose.

So why does the government want to encourage, or at least allow, candidates to spend pots of money on campaigning? Clearly, this is an effort to deceive the public as to what is going on. There will be meetings, there will be manifestos, there will be speeches, there will be leaflets. Candidates will tour the territory explaining to people who have no vote what they will do if elected. Pollsters will assess the public’s view of the candidates. Pundits and bloggers will comment on their rival attractions. And all this is a smokescreen behind which the Liaison Office will make its choice, as it has always done since the job was taken from the Queen of England. If you want to be elected you have to put up a show, to perpetrate the illusion that this is a real election in which the public view of the candidates has a role. It doesn’t.

Leung Chun-ying banner hanging at Mid-levels. Photo: Wikicommons.

You may say, I suppose, that if rich idiots want to spend pots of money on a political pantomime that is their business. The government is merely allowing nature to take its course. But I think raising the limit sends an important message: this is a job for which only millionaires or the friends of millionaires can apply. The advantage of having a small electorate should be precisely that it is easy for any candidate to address the voters. He or she only has to communicate with 1,200 people. If rival candidates are going to be allowed to shower the electorate with money, though, anyone without money is going to be at a considerable disadvantage. Our Marxist masters are curiously fond of rich people.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.