Vote Early, Vote Often

There used to be a very popular expression in Ireland at election time that accurately described the shenanigans which went on: "Vote early, vote often". Similar stories and jokes were made in other places about vote rigging in all its various forms including ballot stuffing, dead people voting, the same person voting multiple times and so on. Chicago was notorious for its creativity in this area.

In more recent times the stories have tended to come from dictatorships in Africa or South America where the leaders award themselves close to 100% of the vote, sometimes in fact exceeding it. Lately, even a major power like Russia seems, sadly, to be slipping backwards in the direction of election misconduct and losing the democracy that at one point seemed within its grasp.

But now Hong Kong runs the serious risk of becoming a joke of its own.

Constitutionally our District Council elections rank fairly low in importance by themselves, though the crossover effect on the Chief Executive election is adding to their significance. This makes the allegations of vote rigging in the recent poll much more serious. The full ramifications of the apparent misconduct are not yet known for certain but already several aspects seem fairly clear and they are alarming.

First is the scale: seven people have already been before the courts, over 20 have been arrested by the ICAC and several more by the police with the total now over 30. More than 400 possible cases have been reported to the ICAC for further investigation. It seems likely there will be more. What we have seen so far is the tip of the iceberg. This is a major scandal.

Second is the degree of coordination. This was no random event with various individuals independently deciding to abuse the system in coincidentally similar ways. They used the same fake addresses of buildings which in some cases none of them had ever occupied, and in other cases had never existed (floor numbers the building had never had) or had been demolished years earlier. The abuse was planned and organized.

Third is the degree of focus. The persons concerned were being shipped in to vote in specifically targeted constituencies. Invariably these were marginal seats where the incumbent was a pan democrat or where a pan democrat was thought to have a fair chance of capturing the seat from a pro Government "independent".

Finally there is the amazing degree of complacency and inaction by the government which permitted the abuse to take place this time round. For all the opportunities for vote rigging now surfacing were in fact identified by the Director of Audit in his report five years ago. Yet (almost) nothing was done to close the loopholes.

The then Minister for Constitutional Affairs Mr Stephen Lam obviously felt it was more important to stop LegCo members resigning to trigger by-elections than to have honest elections in the first place. Now promoted to Chief Secretary, he was in the happy position as the scandal broke of being able to defend his own past conduct.

The Chief Secretary during the years of masterly inaction (2007 – 11) has now resigned to run for the top job of Chief Executive on the basis of superior administrative experience. Mm.

Does that mean the Government also had a more direct role in the abuse, as well as the indirect role of not plugging loopholes? It seems unlikely. Draw out the key features: large scale, well coordinated, focused. Even taking them individually it is hard to see the Administration’s hand. Taking them altogether? Impossible.

But can anyone think of another organization present in Hong Kong which does have the capacity to think and act on a grand scale in an organized and focused way? Unfortunately I can think of one, and it is not a reassuring thought.

And if the same organization is now getting involved in the race for the Chief Executive slot in a similar manner, then we could be witnessing the beginning of the end of "One Country, Two Systems".

Not all jokes make you laugh.