By James Pomfret HONG KONG, Reuters
On the eve of Hong Kong’s leadership election almost certain to be won by Beijing-backed incumbent Donald Tsang, the public mood has ranged from near indifference to frustration at the lack of a popular vote. Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive will be chosen on Sunday by a largely pro-Beijing 795-member electoral college, with the city’s seven million people having no direct say.
Tsang, a popular former civil servant, is a shoo-in despite an unprecedented challenge from pro-democracy lawmaker Alan Leong, the first opposition figure to qualify for such a poll.
While the contested poll, including two televised debates have broken new political ground in the former British colony, there’s been a large degree of public indifference toward what’s seen as a biased, Beijing controlled “small-circle” process.
“I haven’t paid that much attention to the election because everyone already knows the result,” said Janice Chan, a student.
“I don’t think the elections are important. said Coco Tsoi, an aquarium owner: “It’s just a show to make things seem fair.”
While Hong Kong’s streets are almost bereft of evidence of tomorrow’s polls beyond a few isolated billboards — both Tsang and particularly Leong have sought to woo symbolic support from the public in bursts of Western-style campaigning, which analysts say have spurred growing calls for direct elections in future.
“People should have the right to choose their leader, it’s unacceptable that we’re denied this right,” said Alex Lee, a 41-year old office worker.
Since Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule almost a decade ago — its leaders have faced the daunting task of balancing Beijing’s demands with calls for more democracy, ever fearful of antagonizing its political masters, with Hong Kong’s economy increasingly dependent on its motherland.
“If I had a vote I would still vote for Tsang, if Leong won there might be a lot of trouble with China and it would hurt Hong Kong’s interests,” said Ken Mak, a 32-year-old salesperson.
“What’s most important is the economy is handled well and there’s stability,” said Mr. Chan, a corner shop owner, partly reflecting the city’s hard-nosed pragmatism which has helped transform it from fishing village to global financial center.
Despite almost certain defeat, Leong spent his final day tirelessly campaigning across Hong Kong with a megaphone, collecting signatures on street corners for his campaign to realize direct elections in 2012.
“The political landscape and expectations of people have changed irrevocably,” he said: “We’ve set a minimum benchmark.”