In the parallel universe of Hong Kong’s election system the mainstream media, without a hint of irony, reported the ‘election’ of Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress as somehow actually being a genuine election.

Overseeing proceedings was Wang Chen, the NPC Standing Committee vice chairman and secretary-general, who, apparently without blushing, declared that the election “fully carries forward democracy”. The democracy Comrade Wang refers to is the Beijing model, somewhat exemplified by this charade.

Wang Chen. Photo: HKFP remix.

A mere 1,989 voters were allowed to take part and the people running the poll had the power to disqualify candidates they did not like without recourse to appeal or a hint of public discussion. Thus nine candidates were quickly dispatched to the waste pile for political reasons and another candidate was disqualified for technical reasons.

Nevertheless there were more candidates then seats so among the remaining contenders, who all solemnly proclaimed their undying loyalty to Beijing, there was something resembling competition.

No one however should mistake this level of competition for anything resembling a genuine election. In reality, it is an exercise in keeping Beijing’s elite supporters on their toes. Like all dictatorships, the Chinese dictatorship takes nothing for granted and not only requires compliance but wants those who have received ‘the mandate of heaven’ to have fully displayed their obedience and diligence in spreading the word among the ‘unenlightened’.

This entails a bit of reshuffling and casting out of members to be replaced by fresh blood, something that’s quite badly needed among this ageing coterie.

The Great Hall. Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

The groundwork for this so-called election was largely left to Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong. It circulated lists of the preferred candidates and, where necessary, made direct contact with the small circle of voters to avoid the embarrassment of orders not being followed.

However, even in a rigged election of this kind there is some scope for flexibility; in this spirit the Liaison Office ‘only’ issued a list of 30 preferred candidates, leaving six others to scramble for the remaining seats. Yet even this level of flexibility was undermined by nods and winks as to who might be suitable to fill the other seats.

Unlike Comrade Wang, few other pro-Beijing personalities even pretend that this election has some role in furthering democracy but they rely on a cockamamie version of established political science to speak of this process in terms of being a devolved democracy. In other words the public is represented in this process by voters who draw their legitimacy from… from what exactly?

The actual theory of devolved democracy involves delegates being elected from a broad base who gain legitimacy by having some kind of popular mandate for their actions. In the Hong Kong version the NPC election delegates have no popular mandate whatsoever but are selected on the basis of their wealth, membership of official bodies and, of course, membership of so called patriotic associations.

Cynics reading this will quickly declare that there is nothing new in discovering that elections in a one-party system are inevitably rigged and that there is no need to endlessly make this point.

However they are wrong because there is every reason to worry about this in Hong Kong that has a curious hybrid system of genuine elections mixed up with rigged elections. Even elections for the legislature contain this hybrid mix, which leads to a certain amount of confusion but more worryingly, a larger amount of sullen acceptance along the lines of questioning whether it is worth challenging things that cannot be changed.

Photo: mameshiba1985, via Flickr.

This mindset ignores the reality that even the most dictatorial systems are vulnerable to challenge and typically also prove to be extremely fragile when these challenges reach a critical level.

Meanwhile the election of rubber stamp delegates to a rubber stamp legislature provides some scope for light amusement and, for lovers of satire, may I suggest studying the reports pumped out following this event by the usual suspects in mainstream media.

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship