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Hong Kong

‘Small circle’ election self-destructs

www.socialistworld.net, 07/03/2012
website of the committee for a workers' international, CWI

Mass struggle needed for genuine and fair elections and the end of tycoon rule

Editorial from Socialist magazine (CWI in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan)

Popular anger over scandals around the political figures – Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Henry Tang Ying-yen – and against the March 25 pseudo elections was shown when around 10,000 people marched in Hong Kong last weekend, in demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday. Marchers demanded the resignation and prosecution of Chief Executive, Tsang, and pledged complete opposition to what is known as the ‘small circle’ election in which only an elite layer can vote.

In Hong Kong, candidates for government office cannot belong to a political party, to insure they serve only ‘one master’ – the Chinese dictatorship. There are two main political camps – the establishment camp (an assortment of pro-Beijing parties) and the pan-democrats (an assortment of parties advocating universal suffrage) – but only individuals from the former can win government positions under the present system.

Hong Kong’s rigged ‘small circle’ election for Chief Executive (CE) has disintegrated into a scandal-plagued farce. As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and the dramatic events of recent weeks confirm this. A succession of scandals has left no doubt about the culture of corruption, lying, law breaking and cronyism surrounding Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political elite and the business tycoons they serve. These scandals have spread to the current Chief Executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who is facing possible impeachment with just four months left in office. On 1 March, Tsang apologised before an extraordinary session of the largely powerless pseudo-parliament – the Legislative Council - confessing that his jet-setting antics (see below) had “shaken the public’s belief in Hong Kong’s system.”

Around the world there is a surge of protest against the capitalist “1 percent” who control the economy and all political decision-making. But Hong Kong’s elitist election system is not even open to one percent of voters! An election committee of just 1,200 people – 0.017 percent of citizens – will choose the next Chief Executive. The committee is dominated by tycoons and the super-rich, with a thin layer of ‘other interest groups’ added in order to cloud the picture. Even this arrangement is no more than a front for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which ultimately decides.

Simulation exercise goes awry

Previously – in 2007 and 2002 – Beijing fielded just one candidate, who of course won the ‘election’. This year, it has given the go-ahead for a simulated contest with a second candidate from its own camp. This was done for a number of reasons, but mainly in response to mounting pressure within society for real democracy. The ‘small circle’ election model is widely discredited. Beijing therefore wanted a choreographed ‘election’ contest with all the trappings of a real election (rival manifestos, opinion polls, campaign rallies and debates) but without real voters! This, they figured, would lend a certain measure of popular legitimacy to the winning candidate. This would also give Beijing more options in the future as it manoeuvres to limit popular demands for universal suffrage and defend its own ‘bottom line’ – to maintain overall control. The 1,200-member election committee could, they calculate, be revamped whenever the electoral franchise is widened in future to become a nomination committee (i.e. ‘filtering system’ to keep undesirable candidates from running).

But the ‘contest between gentlemen’ envisaged by the CCP has collapsed. In its place, Hong Kongers have been treated to a blood-fight between the two pro-Beijing contenders: former Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and former Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying. This reflects a wider power struggle within Hong Kong’s capitalist elite – and not only there. Undoubtedly, the intense behind-the-scenes manoeuvring we are witnessing also reflects emerging splits within the Chinese dictatorship itself.

The collapse of Henry Tang’s campaign

It was known from the start that Beijing’s favoured candidate, Henry Tang, was a dull and rather dull-witted businessman-turned-official. But few could have predicted the spectacular collapse of his campaign and the dithering, inept performances that have now become his stock-in-trade. This also says a lot about the ‘powerful team’ of business luminaries who are running Tang’s campaign. His team is headed by Bank of East Asia boss David Li Kwok-po. Former Hong Kong Monetary Authority (central bank) chief Joseph Yam Chi-kwong is ‘senior adviser’ to Tang, while another team member is billionaire Joseph Lau Luen Hung, whose brother Thomas shot to notoriety recently by giving Donald Tsang and his wife a “lift” back to Hong Kong on his HK152 million super-yacht after the CE’s impeccably timed casino holiday in Macau!

The ‘basement-gate’ scandal revealed a massive ‘underground palace’ or leisure area, built illegally at the Tang family mansion in Kowloon Tong. Tang’s response set a new record for evasiveness and blunders, first by trying to hide its existence, then claiming the illegal construction was a ‘storage room’, and finally blaming his wife and asking the public for a ‘second chance’! The Tangs’ opulent basement complex houses a wine-tasting room, gym, film theatre, hair salon and swimming pool. If, as seems likely, the illegal basement complex was part of the original design for the house, erected in 2007, Tang or his wife could face up to two years in jail for attempting to defraud the buildings department. They have now been ordered to demolish the basement, which will reportedly be filled with concrete!

These revelations of the pampered and corrupt lifestyle of the capitalist elite have sickened and angered the vast majority, especially given Hong Kong’s cramped living conditions and sky-high costs. The city has the world’s most unaffordable housing thanks to Tang’s tycoon friends. With a reported area of 2,400 square feet, the Tangs’ underground ‘leisure palace’ alone is five times bigger than the average Hong Kong apartment, and 40 times the size of our notorious subdivided apartments or ‘cubicles’!

A recent well-publicised survey by the US-based National Academy of Sciences found that “the wealthy are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law than those who have less”. These findings – no surprise to socialists – are certainly borne out by the antics of Tang and his coterie. Tang was a member of the government charged with cracking down on illegal structures. In May last year, members of the government were ordered to put their own houses in order – literally – and report any illegal structures. This followed a scandal involving unauthorised construction work at the home of Donald Tsang. Five members of the government are known to have committed similar violations of the law. More then these transgressions, it is the mind-set of the ruling elite – that they are above their own laws – that has outraged millions. Tang claims his campaign is about “defending Hong Kong’s core values”. This must mean “the rights of the rich to break the law,” noted a South China Morning Post columnist.

Why didn’t Tang quit?

“Tang has no option but to quit the race,” declared the editorial page of the South China Morning Post (17 February). His credibility has been “buried in the underground palace”, said Apple Daily. Yet Tang’s campaign staggers on. This is clearly not just a personal decision (in so far as Tang makes any decisions) but reflects the wishes – or rather instructions – of both Beijing and the tycoons. His decision not to withdraw has been described as “shameless,” “absurd”, and “a travesty”. In opinion polls, two-thirds say he should quit the race. Even the Liberal Party, which Tang helped to found, is threatening, for its own opportunist reasons, not to vote for Tang in the election committee “if a majority of the population is still opposed.”

It is the system itself, and not just the person, Tang, that is ‘shameless’ and ‘absurd’. Even more disreputable then, is the decision of the Democratic Party’s Albert Ho Chun-yan to continue playing his ‘minor role’ in this farce. Ho’s motives for entering the contest – he does not even have a theoretical chance of victory [and therefore does not need to resign his party affiliation]– were from the outset cynical: to grab some publicity for his party and demonstrate goodwill towards Beijing in pursuit of the Democrats’ chimera of ‘negotiations for democracy’.

As the ‘Socialist’ magazine has always insisted, the struggle for real democratic rights will not be granted by a ‘benevolent’ dictatorship; it must be fought for through mass struggle, not just in Hong Kong but also by linking up with the workers and poor masses in mainland China. The compromise wing of the pan-democrats have only played into the hands of the CCP, by opposing real resistance and lending a ‘democratic’ façade to anti-democratic manoeuvres such as this ‘small circle’ election and the 2010 electoral reform package.

Tang is the main choice of the dominant tycoon class. He is the scion of a Shanghai textile empire. His father Tang Hsiang-chien was ranked the 40th-richest person in Hong Kong in 2010 (Forbes Magazine) and is said to be close to former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Tang is backed by a ‘Who’s Who’ of Hong Kong’s top bankers and property developers. Of the 12 major property conglomerates, which wield 64 votes in the election committee, 38 of them have already nominated Tang. HSBC Asia Pacific chief executive Peter Wong Tung-shun, who has just ordered 3,000 job cuts in Hong Kong, is another prominent Tang supporter, as is Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man.

The tycoons want a pliant front man in Government House. They are wary of Leung, who is ambitious and is seen to represent a rival faction of second-tier business interests that resent the existing pecking order of tycoon empires. Both of Beijing’s candidates have clearly capitalist agendas, but while Tang represents the neo-liberal orthodoxy of ‘small government’, Leung is a social liberal, favouring more government intervention in areas like pensions and housing. Some anti-Leung commentators attack him as a ‘socialist’, but this is a preposterous allegation, echoing similar attacks on Obama by extreme-right Republicans.

Crisis is a fact – what next?

Beijing now faces a serious dilemma and the risk of a political crisis no matter who wins in Hong Kong. After the basement scandal broke, many thought Beijing would hastily improvise a ‘Plan B’ and cast in a new candidate such as the biggest pro-Beijing party DAB’s honorary chairman Tsang Yok-sing before the February deadline for nominations expired. But Beijing is sticking with ‘Plan A’ – at least for the time being. This is partly because it believes any change now would be a sign of panic, but also because it is hesitating over what its next step should be. The bureaucratic machinery of the central government can, in times of dramatic change, face paralysis and indecision, with no one wanting to carry the can in the event of failure. The entry of a third establishment candidate, which looked possible at one stage, would also have increased the risk that none of Beijing’s nominees would get the required 601 votes on March 25, forcing an even more embarrassing re-run of the election to be held in May.

As many have warned, Hong Kong could face “a governance crisis” should Tang be chosen in the face of widespread public hostility. Even Tang’s former comrade-in-arms, Liberal Party honorary chairman, James Tien Pei-chun, has warned that tens of thousands could take to the streets in a re-run of the 2003 events. The ramifications of this go beyond Hong Kong.

It is the likely successor to president Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, who carries the ultimate responsibility for political developments in Hong Kong. An anonymous source close to the central government gave this verdict: “If the situation in Hong Kong gets out of hand, it will reflect badly on the new leadership [in China]. This is not just a Hong Kong affair.” (South China Morning Post, 29 February)

The sharpening power struggle within the Chinese one-party state, between ‘liberalisers’ and ‘state-capitalists’ on the one hand, and among competing regional and business factions on the other, means that Xi will face hurdles to establishing his authority. Should Hong Kong suffer political instability, Xi will face the question: How can you run China if you can’t run Hong Kong?

Beijing has been taken aback by the ferocity of the Tang-Leung rivalry. This reflects a power struggle within the capitalist establishment that has been enormously sharpened by the ‘election’ campaign and its mud slinging. This split at the top is in turn a symptom of the deepening crisis of capitalism. This, by the way, is a major reason why the CCP does not want to entertain ideas of ‘Western-style democracy’ in China, knowing that its own elite power struggle, which is repressed and contained at this stage within the dictatorial strait-jacket, would likely explode and pose a threat to its own rule. This could very likely develop even on the basis of a limited, Hong Kong-style mock election, should such an experiment be reproduced in China. That Beijing has lost control of the process in Hong Kong will sound even more alarm bells over its own ‘reform’ deliberations.

CCP-tycoon alliance

Since the early 1980s, and the start of the reunification process, the CCP has built up close links with the dominant tycoon families in Hong Kong, and since 1997 it has ruled the territory largely through them. The CCP’s support for Tang was predicated on the fact that he was the tycoons’ choice and represented a ‘safe pair of hands’ based on his record in previous governments. Beijing gave the green light to Leung’s challenge only to create the illusion of a real ‘election’. Leung himself probably stood with the next race, in 2017, in his sights, rather than a serious hope of becoming CE now. But elections, like any field of struggle, have their own logic. Leung himself almost certainly underestimated the devastating political fall-out that would result from the ‘basement-gate’ scandal, which his camp initiated. The capitalist establishment as a whole only have the dimmest of realisations of the explosive mood that is developing in society. But for Leung there’s no turning back. The damage – to his own system – is already done.

The tycoons – who care even less about opinion polls and democratic niceties than the CCP – seem to be sticking with Tang. Their distrust of Leung, and fear that he will be too ‘independent’, has been heightened by his role in the campaign. It is an open secret that Leung’s campaign team are behind the leaks that have destroyed the credibility of Tang, and more recently also of Donald Tsang, whose not-so-private antics have also been used to discredit the Tang camp. The tycoons may lobby hard for Beijing to stick with Tang on the grounds that they ‘cannot work with’ Leung, and that his election tactics have jeopardised the whole basis of their rule.

Is it possible that Beijing could still opt for Tang? It is impossible to predict with any certainty. But the CCP, as shown on many occasions, suffers a massive ‘disconnect’ from the public mood in Hong Kong. Its authoritarian nature means it lacks some of the political tools and instincts associated with managing a ‘democracy’ and weighing up more complex situations that cannot be resolved by bureaucratic diktat. The Chinese regime also, like Hong Kong’s tycoons, suffers from an excess of confidence at present, believing their economic ‘successes’ afford them a degree of infallibility. This could still open a door to Henry Tang, especially if mass opposition is not manifested on the streets.

The farcical disintegration of this election charade presents a huge opportunity for all who oppose dictatorial rule and the capitalist “1 percent”. Today’s massive discontent, which goes beyond opposition to the undemocratic electoral system, and represents a seething rage against the whole ruling class, must be given an organised expression. Street protests and mass activity must be organised to expose all three candidates, their pro-capitalist agendas, and the abomination of the ‘small circle’ election.

Socialist Action will play our part in this struggle. The collapse of the old pan-democratic camp, with the ignominious surrender of the right-wing pan-democrats, necessitates the building of a new democratic movement based on mass struggle, a democratic grassroots membership and a programme to fight capitalism and dictatorship. The decisive force in this context is the working class and the youth, who must create a new grassroots workers’ party with a socialist programme.



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NEWS

Video: Socialist MP condemns Troika/Irish government’s bullying of Greek voters
01/07/2015, :
Paul Murphy TD (Irish MP) attacks Irish prime minister’s collusion with Brussels big business agenda and voices solidarity with Greek workers

Is China’s stock market bubble bursting?
01/07/2015, Dikang, chinaworker.info:
Billions wiped off share values in June – only the Greek stock market is more volatile

South Africa: The Marikana Report – a whitewash
30/06/2015, Weizmann Hamilton, Workers’ and Socialist Party (WASP):
Not a stone has been left unturned on the political landscape

Tunisia: Terrorist atrocity in Sousse
29/06/2015, Statement by Al-Badil al-Ishtiraki (Socialist Alternative, CWI in Tunisia):
For a renewed mass movement against poverty and terror

Greece: “NO”
27/06/2015, Statement by Xekinima (CWI in Greece):
On Sunday 5 July, we say “no” to the gang of the lenders!

Germany: Indefinite strike for more staff at Charité hospital
26/06/2015, Aron Amm, Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany):
Berlin industrial dispute of national importance

Greece: Where are mass solidarity protests with Syriza?
26/06/2015, Eleni Mitsou, from Xekinima (CWI Greece) website:
Troika must be defied – No more cuts! Don’t pay the debt! Socialist policies would win huge backing from Greek workers

Egypt: Counter-revolution continues
25/06/2015, David Johnson, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Recent strikes show workers will resist

Video: Paul Murphy appeals to Greek Left - Reject the blackmail
24/06/2015, socialistworld.net:
CWI MP speaks in Irish parliament

Scotland: 1,000s rally against austerity
24/06/2015, Matt Dobson and Philip Stott, Socialist Party Scotland (CWI):
Ferry workers’ strike over jobs, pay, pensions and privatisation

Video: Socialist MP condemns Troika’s blackmail of Greece
24/06/2015, socialistworld.net:
"Minister Noonan lined up with Schauble, he said tighten the noose, he stabbed the Greek people in the chest and the Irish people in the back"

Greece: “Despite spin, Syriza proposals terrible for pensioners and workers”
23/06/2015, Andreas Payiatsos and Niall Mulholland:
SYRIZA Left must vote against cave-in deal with Troika and act in interests of workers!

Britain: 100,000s protest against austerity
23/06/2015, From Socialist Party website (CWI England & Wales):
Socialist Party says: "Organise! Strike! Resist! Build for a 24-hour general strike!"

Brazil: No to sackings and political persecution in Sabesp
22/06/2015, André Ferrari, LSR (CWI in Brazil):
Reinstate Marzeni now – Solidarity needed!

Ireland North: 20,000 protesters demand LGBT rights
21/06/2015, Kevin Henry, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Belfast:
To end oppression we need to fight to end this system, uniting working people, fighting for equality

Britain: Can Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge help to develop the socialist left?
20/06/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary:
Left candidate in Labour Party leadership contest

Hong Kong: Fake democracy roundly rejected in legislative vote
19/06/2015, Socialist Action reporters in Hong Kong:
Government proposals end in fiasco as Beijing loyalists misjudge voting rules

Ireland: Socialist MPs’ Employment Equality Bill passed
18/06/2015, Oisin Kelly, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
Bill would end the right of religiously run schools, hospitals and other workplaces to discriminate against LGBTQ workers

China: Life sentence for former security boss
16/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
Secret trial of Zhou Yongkang

Turkey: Historical breakthrough for the left as AKP suffers its worst defeat in 13 years
15/06/2015, Michael Gehmacher SLP (CWI in Austria) & Sosyalist Alternatif (CWI in Turkey) reporters:
What future for the HDP?

Italy: Regional elections
13/06/2015, Marco Veruggio, Controcorrente (CWI in Italy):
Myth of Prime Minister’s invincibility exposed

Greece: Solidarity needed with Vodafone strike
12/06/2015, Alexandros Prandunas, Xekinima (CWI in Greece):
Appeal for international solidarity action on 25 June

Iceland: Strike wave produces results
11/06/2015, Per-Åke Westerlund (CWI Sweden):
Workers win thirty percent wage increase over three years

Greece: Crunch-time for Syriza?
10/06/2015, Niall Mulholland, from The Socialist, Issue 859, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales):
Workers and poor cannot take more calamitous austerity

Germany: Multiple strikes mark changed situation
09/06/2015, Sascha Stanicic from Sozialistische Alternative (CWI in Germany):
Strikes in numerous sectors as workers fail to benefit from “recovery”

Pakistan: Protest song by Jawad Ahmed
08/06/2015, socialistworld.net:
Response to anti-worker measures in Pakistani budget

CWI Comment and Analysis

ANALYSIS

Greece: Troika threatens Greeks ahead of referendum
30/06/2015, Andreas Payiatsos and Niall Mulholland:
Vote ‘No’! For a mass working class campaign to oppose Troika and for socialist policies!

Britain’s class battle-lines are drawn
26/06/2015, Hannah Sell, Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales) Deputy General Secretary - article from ’Socialism Today’:
A quarter-of-a-million people protested through London and Glasgow raising the need for trade union-led struggle

Greece: Tsipras retreats before Troika threats
24/06/2015, Statement by Xekinima (CWI Greece) [dated 23 June 2015]:
What should the SYRIZA Left do next?

Greece: No surrender to‘Gang of Lenders’
22/06/2015, Editorial article from Xekinima (CWI Greece) [dated 17 June 2015]:
Plan an anti-austerity fight-back, with socialist policies!

Iraq/Syria: US imperialist strategy in tatters
12/06/2015, Serge Jordan (CWI):
A year after ISIS captured Mosul, the jihadist group controls about half of Syria and a third of Iraq – more territory than ever before

Greece: Syriza voters want austerity ended, not another ’compromise’ Troika deal
04/06/2015, Editorial article from Xekinima (CWI Greece) website [dated 3 June 2015]:
Break with the austerity - adopt a socialist programme!

China: Is China heading for a new Tiananmen?
04/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
26th anniversary of the Beijing massacre on June 4, 1989, is also a warning of revolutionary shocks ahead

Hong Kong: Endgame for Beijing’s fake democracy plan
03/06/2015, Vincent Kolo, chinaworker.info:
Government’s electoral reform proposals meet with mass opposition

Spain: Victories for Left “popular unity” lists in local elections
02/06/2015, Danny Byrne, CWI:
Two-party system dealt a new blow in local and regional elections

Belgium: Momentum to bring down right wing government lost
01/06/2015, Els Deschoemacker and Eric Byl, LSP/PSL (Belgian section of the CWI), Brussels:
Learn from the struggle, as new opportunities open up

Ireland: Massive ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality referendum
28/05/2015, Conor Payne, Socialist Party (CWI in Ireland):
Growing opposition to conservative establishment

Britain: The struggles to come
27/05/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party (CWI England and Wales) General Secretary:
No fundamental change to be expected from the Labour Party

Canada’s ‘carbo-state’
26/05/2015, Bill Hopwood, Socialist Alternative (CWI Canada):
Only a socialist alternative can challenge the carbo-capitalists’ grip on Canadian politics

Iraq/Syria: ISIS rout national armies at Ramadi and Palmyra
23/05/2015, Niall Mulholland, CWI:
United working class movement needed to sweep away sectarian militias and reactionary politicians

Ireland North: Election marks growing rejection of sectarian status quo
21/05/2015, Daniel Waldron and Kevin Henry, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland), Belfast:
Opportunities to build new anti-sectarian political voice for working class and youth

Spain: Is Podemos in crisis?
20/05/2015, Danny Byrne, CWI:
Left and social movements in a state of flux, as key elections loom

USA: Presidential candidate declares "political revolution" against billionaires
12/05/2015, Philip Locker, Socialist Alternative, Seattle:
Campaign needs to build independent political power

Britain: Fight against "five more damned years" of Tory rule
12/05/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party )CWI England & Wales) General Secretary:
Labour leader’s ’responsible capitalism’ shows its bankruptcy

China: “In a hard landing now”
11/05/2015, Dikang, chinaworker.info:
Stock market frenzy and fabricated GDP figures cannot hide the reality of an economy in deep trouble

Ireland North: Socialist Party replies to leading Sinn Fein councillor’s attacks
06/05/2015, Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) Statement:
How to fight cuts, sectarianism and to build workers’ unity

May Day 2015: Socialist plan or capitalist chaos
01/05/2015, Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party General Secretary, (CWI England & Wales):
What sort of new society are we struggling for?

Nepal: Disaster in Nepal –amplified by capitalism
30/04/2015, TU Senan, CWI:
Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the south Asian region has been further devastated by the recent earthquake.

May Day 2015: Resisting austerity, exploitation, wars and oppression
28/04/2015, CWI:
125 years since first May Day – Build a united workers’ movement for socialism!

Latin America: A new turn?
25/04/2015, Tony Saunois, article from May issue of Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales):
Historic handshake between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, turmoil in Venezuela, and stalled reforms in Bolivia – as well as crises in Brazil – symbolise a new turn in Latin America and the Caribbean

Iran: Proposed nuclear deal reflects transformed Middle East
24/04/2015, Robert Bechert, CWI:
In aftermath of disastrous Iraq occupation, Obama administration balancing between region’s forces