Hong Kong politics

ESF Subvention finally abolished (in 2029)

It has been apparent for at least 10 years that the government had no wish to continue subsidizing the ESF.  The real surprise is that it has taken so long to make this decision - and it will only start to take effect three years from now, with some subsidy remaining in place for another 13 years (until the last pupils admitted to ESF primary schools in August 2015 complete their studies).

The SCMP has two news stories and one opinion piece:

Decision to end ESF subsidy a lesson in Machiavellian ruthlessness

South China Morning Post | Saturday, 08 June, 2013 | Alex Lo

Shock and horror! Fees for schools under the English Schools Foundation from 2016 will be at least 23 per cent higher as the government phases out the public subsidy.

But you would expect that. The die was cast once the Education Bureau announced it would phase out the current subsidy. You want to know how much ESF parents will eventually have to pay? Just check out the fees of other international schools.

The decision to end the subsidy after freezing payment for a decade may go down in history as one of the most ruthless made by this administration. But before you pick up your pitchfork and bay for blood, it's not entirely the fault of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his education secretary, Eddie Ng Hak-kim. Of course it is their fault for allowing it to happen. But I am actually not sure they know what they are doing with the ESF in the sense they almost certainly did not come up with the policy decision - those immediately below Ng within the bureau did.

There is an almost Machiavellian elegance to the decision - if you discount its irresponsibility, unfairness and immorality. You can be sure our clueless Mr Ng would never come up with something so clever; this is reserved for the senior administrative officials within the bureau, not a few of whom - I bet - are, or were, ESF parents.

Let's see what this decision really means. Taxpayers' money will be saved. The ESF is certain to prosper, as it will be able to charge high fees and million-dollar debentures on a par with other international schools. The government can claim it is helping to boost international school places without lifting a finger. It is also a populist decision as many local families resent the real or perceived special treatment given to the ESF as an old colonial institution.

But it is never explained why it is no longer the government's responsibility to support affordable education for non-Chinese-speaking children of residents or permanent residents. Nor is it clear why local families should be left to their own devices once they leave the local system and join the international school sector.

But the reality is that these families are on their own unless they can pay the high school fees.

The government’s official reason for ending the subvention is that it "flies in the face of the government's policy of not providing recurrent subsidy to schools mainly running non-local curriculum."

It’s the word “mainly” that appears to be the crucial one.  Schools operating under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) are allowed to have 49% of their students in an “international” stream that leads to qualifications such as IGCSE and IB Diploma, but must have 51% studying for local exams.

It would be a huge change to the ESF to be able to satisfy the DSS rules, and so the ESF Board has accepted the government decision but they have arranged meetings with parents to get their views.  Expect these meetings to be lively, and ESF management will be heavily criticized, but current parents are not the ones who will lose the most from this decision, and it’s not possible to consult with parents of future ESF students.

On Friday, the HK Standard quoted Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim on the lack of international school places, saying that “international schools [should] consider devising an allocation mechanism such as a certain proportion of places being earmarked for children whose parents are recruited or relocated from outside Hong Kong."  So it seems clear the government wants the ESF to operate as an international school, offering priority to expats - and there is no doubt that the ESF can be successful operating in that way.

The losers here are local parents who can’t afford higher school fees, but the government doesn’t care about them.


Servile submission..blatant chauvinism…rampant disparagements…fruitful diversity

Why does the South China Morning keep printing these absurd letters?

In defence of local school system

I read your report ("Plea to improve public schools", February 14) with misgivings, appalled by the city's self-styled democrats' servile submission to expatriates' blatant chauvinism in the education debate.

Off to a a strong start there, with attacks on the democrats and expats in the first sentence, though purists might argue that readability has been sacrificed by cramming so much prejudice in to such a small space. 

Indisputably, international schools are gaining popularity among local parents. But popularity often reflects superficiality and measures neither quality nor depth.

Well that would be a telling point - if we were talking about X Factor.  Not sure that it’s quite so valid when local parents are spending their own hard-earned money on fees for international schools.  But wait, there’s more.

International schools are less demanding than local schools, with simpler syllabuses and easier examination grading standards. They seldom participate in inter-school sports competitions and music festivals where local schools dominate. Local schools' high average standard is evidenced by the very top positions which local students consistently achieve in various international scholastic surveys.

Wouldn’t you expect local schools to dominate in music festivals, what with there being so many more of them?    And, yes, we know that Hong Kong examination results are outstanding in several subjects, but international schools also achieve very good results, and they provide a more well-rounded education.      

Against rampant disparagements against local schools, which in effect are veiled criticisms of local teachers' incompetence, Cheung Man-kwong, a local teacher who represents the teaching profession in the legislature, has neither defended the local system nor proposed ways to improve it.

Another long and convoluted sentence, and I’m not sure that dissatisfaction with local schools implies criticism of teachers - surely it is more the system that is under attack.

He [Cheung Man-kwong] has been a staunch proponent of segregation. His demand to restrict local enrolment in international schools serves to grab political capital by appeasing both foreigners who abhor local competition for international education and those local teachers who fear job security if local students opt for international schools.

What if, contrary to objective measures, international schools were somehow "superior" to local schools? Shouldn't local students have equal access to the "better" education of international schools which have benefited from land grants, the city's most precious resource?

I’m getting confused here.  Are local schools better than international schools or not?  Anyway, it’s irrelevant whether land is used for international schools or government schools, because it has the same impact on the supply of land.  And let’s not forget that if there were no international schools it would cost the government a lot more money to provide education for all those students.  The ESF subvention is currently less than half of the payment to DSS schools (which is supposed to match what it costs the government to provide a school place), and other international schools get nothing.  

Kashimura Fujio of Hong Kong Japanese School observes that, unlike Hong Kong's expatriates, many expatriates in Tokyo send their children to local schools. Why? Japanese schools can't be more "international" than Hong Kong's local schools in teaching medium and curricula. However, as the Japanese respect their local schools, expatriates in Japan properly learn to respect the education standard of the country which offers them employment opportunities.

I think we are getting to the real point.  Foreigners shouldn’t be so difficult - if Hong Kong schools are good enough for locals they should be good enough for foreigners.  If only locals would be more patriotic and ‘respect’ local schools, all would be well.

The local education system is not impeccable. But we may never improve our schools if our political leaders lack the moral courage to overcome the inferiority complex of their colonial mentality.

Of course,  that must be the explanation: Hong Kong has a huge inferiority complex.

It's time we recognised local students' achievements and publicised local education's high standard.

We must outgrow the colonial practice of double standards in education and cease subsidising international schools, which skirt the local curricula and fail to prepare students for local exams. Fruitful diversity with a fair standard for equal application to all stakeholders should be distinguished from discriminatory segregation based on privileges and prejudice.

Pierce Lam, Central

Ah, yes, fruitful diversity.  One of my favourites.


Foreigners still bad

It’s clear that Sam Wong is not going back down on his argument that the Romans have never done anything for us:

Hong Kong government doing well

South China Morning Post | Friday 3 February 2012

I refer to the letter from Jeffry Kuperus ("Competitive thanks to mainland", January 17) in reply to my letter ("Some deny post-colonial reality of HK", January 12).

He referred to the airport being built under the stewardship of then governor Chris Patten. He complained about social welfare deficiencies, exorbitant room charges in private hospitals, high-priced apartments and a lame-duck chief executive.

The airport was built thanks to the city's abundant reserves, without which Mr Patten would have achieved nothing of note except his controversial political reform package.

So these abundant reserves just happened to be there?  He’s not going to give the colonial administrations any credit for them, is he?

The chief executive is doing a fine job. Economies worldwide are still suffering from the aftermath of the financial tsunami, but the city's economy has remained buoyant. Unemployment remains low and decent social welfare is available to people in need. Prices of apartments are high but this is compensated by a low tax regime. Private rooms in hospitals are expensive but charges are transparent.

The chief executive runs the administration in accordance with the Basic Law, which should not be interpreted as to "kowtow to Beijing".

Of course not.  Donald Tsang is totally his own man. 

Unfair criticism against the chief executive may mislead the public, undermine the administration and slow down the development of democracy in this city.

Right, because no-one criticizes political leaders in democracies.  If people said unfair or untrue things about Obama that would be terrible for democracy.

People living in cage dwellings deserve our sympathy but their future can only be changed by themselves.

I once lived in a small cubicle in a run-down area in Sham Shui Po. The apartment had neither a heater nor an elevator. The conditions were far worse than cage dwellings.  However, I have worked my way up from clerk to financial controller.

Eh, you were lucky to have a room! We used to have to live in t' corridor!

Oh, we used to dream of livin' in a corridor! Would ha' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woke up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House? Huh.

Well, when I say 'house' it was only a hole in the ground covered by a sheet of tarpaulin, but it was a house to us.

We were evicted from our 'ole in the ground; we 'ad to go and live in a lake [continues in similar vein for several minutes].

Hong Kong will not deviate from a prudent monetary policy despite an abundance of reserves. We will not repeat the mistakes of countries in Europe.

Sam Wong, Tsim Sha Tsui


More silly ESF letters

The problem with the “debate” about the ESF on the letters page of the South China Morning Post is that most of the correspondents stick to whatever is their chosen line of argument, and fail to engage with their opponents.  Here’s a prime example (from Thursday):

ESF must accept level playing field

Letters in support of the English Schools Foundation's (ESF) subvention are written characteristically without regard to relevant facts and their moral significance.

Good start.

Jonathan Leung ("ESF schools contribute to international character of city", September 5) omits the fact that 35 per cent of the ESF's subsided places are occupied by selective non-residents who are not entitled to public subsidies.

Really?  35% of the students are not Hong Kong residents?  Or not permanent residents?  All Hong Kong residents have to pay tax, and their children are entitled to attend government schools and DSS (Direct Subsidy Scheme) schools.   Oh, and the ESF website says “About 70% of [ESF] students have parents who are permanent residents of Hong Kong”. 

Despite his predilection for "international" character, he seems unaware that international norms censure linguistic discrimination such as that perpetrated by the ESF, and which is outlawed in all native English-speaking countries.

We could really end the letter here.  Cynthia Sze (and others) simply object to the idea of having schools that give priority to non-Cantonese speakers.  It’s easy to make that sound outrageous until you consider that English is an official language of Hong Kong, and the local school system is (unsurprisingly) designed to cater for Cantonese speakers, and so that’s why we have the ESF.  And although a large number of Cantonese-speaking students still find their way into ESF schools there are plenty of parents who are outraged that their children weren’t granted an interview – or worse, were not offered a place.  

Richard Di Bona's complaint about the government not providing adequate educational opportunities in English, an official language, shows his disregard for Hong Kong's internationally acclaimed universal education ("ESF fills role government should play", September 2). English is the medium of instruction of many local schools. Local secondary graduates readily gain admission to native English-speaking universities overseas and satisfy their language requirements.

Local schools prepare students for public examinations which are markedly more stringent than the overseas exams taken by ESF students. That's why ESF students don't take local exams whereas local students readily take overseas exams.

ESF students take the IGCSE and IB Diploma examinations.  Not English GCSEs and A levels. 

The ESF's popularity is due largely to its extraordinary staff benefits and unusually student-friendly programme. Its hyped "international" appeal is warped and vacuous. Social justice requires that the ESF, a subsidised institution, must align its staff benefits and admission practice fairly with social norms.

Mr Di Bona should realise that the English which the Basic Law provides as an official language is local English and not native English, just like Cantonese, which is local Chinese, is the de facto official Chinese language of Hong Kong. If local English fails to become socially functional like Singlish in Singapore, the use of English as an ancillary official language will decline naturally and should discontinue in 2047.

Good plan.  Teach students “local Hong Kong English” (which isn’t very useful) and then we can drop it as an official language.

Hong Kong will always be Cantonese-speaking because the Chinese are not hegemonic like the English who have obliterated the Celtic and the Romance languages in Britain. Promotion of native English will render Hong Kong an accomplice in the hegemony of the English language. We need a unified language policy for minorities of various mother tongues.

I see.  So China isn’t trying to promote Putonghua as the national language to replace local dialects.  And someone should tell her how much government funding is provided to support the Welsh language.

The objective of public education is to promote social coherence which can't be achieved if we continue the divisive policy of the bygone colonial administration and segregate our students into local English schools, native English schools, schools for non- native English-speaking minorities, and so forth.

Cynthia Sze, Quarry Bay

A mischievous sub-editor put this next letter immediately after Cynthia Sze’s diatribe:

Puzzled by opposition to English

As a non-native English speaker I am often baffled by the anti-English sentiments in some quarters of Asia's world city.

Furthermore it is fascinating to see that while English has an aura of "cool" to youngsters all over the world (including mainland China) this does not seem to be the case here.

I foresee that in 10 years' time the whole world will speak (a sort of) English except for one pocket in the southeast of China: Hong Kong.

Josephine Bersee, Mid-Levels


By-election bores

In the early 1980s, British politics briefly became exciting. There were a series of by-elections in which Social Democrat and Liberal candidates won some stunning victories, most notably Roy Jenkins in the distinctly unpromising Glasgow Hillhead constituency. He had earlier lost in Warrington, and there was certainly no guarantee that he would win at his second attempt - but he was willing to take the risk of suffering another defeat.

One of the many problems with the upcoming by-elections in Hong Kong is that no-one is taking any risks. Five legislators from the League of Social Democrats and the Civic Party have resigned in order to force by-elections - which they know they will win, because in a straight fight the democrats always win.

Just to ensure that this is meaningless, the Liberals (no relation to the British party) have decided not to put up any candidates. This seems like a smart move, because they would certainly lose, but it also highlights the fact that the Liberals are probably the most pointless of all the parties we have in Hong Kong.

Amusingly (but predictably) the Liberal Party claim it is a matter of principle because they can't accept the LSD and Civic Party talking about the by-elections as a de-facto referendum (on democracy) and a "popular uprising". An alternative view is that they are just doing what Beijing told them to do, and somehow that seems a lot more likely than a sudden (and unprecedented) outbreak of principles.

The DAB are likely to do the same thing (for the same reasons), so the five legislators will be back in Legco without even facing any serious opposition.

Actually, it's hard to see how anyone resigning and standing in a by-election is ever going to prove anything. A recent example in the UK was Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis, who resigned as a Tory MP to fight a by-election, which he duly won - but can anyone remember the issue that caused him to resign? Did it make any difference? Obviously not (except that he is no longer in the shadow cabinet).

I think I might even agree with Priscilla Leung Mei-fun (independent pro-Beijing legislator), who proposed changing the rules so that anyone resigning from Legco would not be eligible to stand in any by-election. This would not have prevented the five legislators resigning, but it might have made them think twice about doing so.

And, yes, the Liberals and Social Democrats had some stunning victories in the early 80s, but when it came to the 1983 General Election, the Tories won a huge majority, and these days the Liberal Democrats are still largely irrelevant in the two party system.


Legco - the final word

The big story was the collapse of the Liberal Party in the geographical constituencies, but there were two other things that caught my attention.

The first was that the pan-democrats were incredibly fortunate with the results.  For example, in NT East they got 57% of the vote and won 71% of the seats, and something similar happened on Hong Kong Island.  The DAB piled up more votes than they needed, and independent (pro-Beijing) candidates such as Scarlett Pong Oi-Lan in NT East and Priscilla Leung Mei-fun in Kowloon West must have taken votes off the Liberal Party.

The second was that the one party who ought to be really satisfied with their performance were the League of Social Democrats (who are not as moderate as the name might imply).  They won three seats, and who would have predicted that Leung Kwok Hung ("Long Hair") would get more votes than any of the other pan-democrat lists in NT East?  Yes, by  less than 600 votes, but at one stage the SCMP was predicting that he might lose.

Ah, opinion polls.  What's this I see in the SCMP?  Oh, yes - Exit polls largely accurate despite fears about response rate (subscription required):

The main exit polls appear to have gauged support for many of the candidates accurately despite pollsters' concerns that a poor response rate could compromise their reliability.

Questions about exit polls caused some of the biggest controversies of a largely uneventful campaign. Pan-democrats complained that their Beijing loyalist rivals might set up groups to conduct exit polls and use the results to adjust election strategy. They reminded voters of their right to refuse exit pollsters information. Many voters seemed to heed the reminder, and some even said they had lied to pollsters.

The value of the exit polls, including the one by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme to help broadcasters shape their coverage on election night, was called into question. Some candidates cited leaks of exit poll data when they issued "situation critical" calls to bring out more of their voters.

Initial results, released yesterday, from two exit polls - by the HKU programme and Hong Kong Research Association - indicated a response rate of about 50 per cent. The association said the 50 per cent level was barely acceptable to produce representative projections.

While its projections were largely reliable, its results indicated Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, who was second on the Civic Party ticket contesting the Hong Kong Island constituency, stood an "extremely slim chance" of winning. However, Ms Eu won, with her ticket taking 26.4 per cent of the votes cast by the 313,429 electors in the constituency.

In the New Territories West constituency, its poll gave Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee of the Liberal Party and Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung of the Civic Party a "relatively bigger chance" of winning. But Mrs Chow won only 5.4 per cent of the vote and Dr Cheung just 7 per cent. Both lost. The association's data also gave James Tien Pei-chun, of the Liberal Party, a "relatively bigger chance" of winning in New Territories East. He also lost.

The HKU public opinion programme's exit poll gave five of the six eventual winners in Hong Kong Island a very high chance of victory. In New Territories East, it gave five of the seven eventual winners a very high chance and in New Territories West correctly predicted five of the eight winners.

This is obviously a new definition of "largely reliable".  We got several of our predictions wrong, but some were correct, so that's OK then.

Independent pollster Li Pang-kwong, of Lingnan University, who did not conduct exit polling on Sunday, believed the discrepancies were partly attributable to interviewees giving false answers.

Yes, people sometimes lie when asked how they will vote or have voted, and it's something pollsters have to deal with.


Vote Vote Vote

The Legco elections take place today, and I have to admit that I'm having trouble taking them seriously.

The first problem is that we are not electing a government - oh no, that isn't the way things work here.

That leads directly to the second problem - politics in Hong Kong is more about posturing than policy.  It is meaningless for a party to promise smaller class sizes, higher welfare benefits, or lower taxes, when they won't have the opportunity to implement the policies (one might say the same about the Liberal Democrats in the UK, but at least they pretend they could form a government). 

So in broad terms we have two groupings: the pan-democrats and the pro-Beijing parties.  Those labels are not very helpful, because not many people in Hong Kong are either anti-democracy or anti-Beijing, but I suppose we all understand what they mean.  Another way of looking at it is that the pro-Beijing parties (the DAB and the Liberal Party) tend to be more supportive of the Hong Kong government, and the pan-democrats normally oppose the government, but again that's not terribly useful.          

The third problem is the voting system.  Hong Kong has 5 large constituencies, each electing between 5 and 8 legislators.  If this system was used in the UK it would produce a more representative House of Commons because the Liberal Democrats would be guaranteed at least one seat in almost all the constituencies. In Hong Kong it also produces a fairly representative Legco, with the main advantage (cynics say) of ensuring that the pro-Beijing parties are well-represented in Legco - at least in part because the "pan-democrats" are generally not as organized or disciplined as the pro-Beijing parties. 

Take New Territories East, which has no less than 10 different lists.  There are two lists for the "pro-Beijing" parties: the DAB expect to win two seats and the Liberal Party's James Tien would expect to win another.  That leaves four more seats, and you might expect the pan-democrats to win all of them.  The problem is that they have five different lists (unlike last time when there was a single "7.1 United Front" list). The Democratic Party alone has two lists, the second one apparently being for their younger members.  Then there's The Frontier (Emily Lau Wai-Hing), and the Civic Party (Ronny Tong Ka-Wah), who were also on the "7.1 United Front" list 4 years ago.  There's also the League of Social Democrats (Leung Kwok Hung, aka 'Long Hair), who wasn't.

The problem for the pan-democrats is that the result is largely going to depend how the votes are split between these five lists, and it is quite possible (based on opinion polls) that Scarlett Pong Oi-Lan (running as an independent, but regarded as 'pro-Beijing') could edge out either Emily Lau or 'Long Hair'.  On the other hand, the pan-democrats could get five seats. 

The biggest weakness of the 'party list' system is that if a list gets get too few votes to elect a single candidate, none of those votes really count.  Equally, if a list gets enough votes to elect one candidate, but not enough to elect a second candidate then again the excess votes also don't count.  The solution is STV (single transferrable vote) , which has the added advantage that voters could choose their preferred candidates rather than being stuck with the party lists.  You'd like to vote Liberal but can't stand James Tien?  Well, you would be able to do just that - but don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

The fourth problem is that it all seems much more showbiz that serious politics.  Some candidates have been using empty-headed celebrities to promote their election bids, and the debates (shown on Cable TV) have seen a lot of shouting but very little serious discussion - which is hardly surprising when they are conducted in a public open space and the 30 or so candidates are flanked by noisy supporters.  It's almost as if they really don't want us to take it too seriously.    


The spin cycle

Before Sunday's by-election, Lau Nai-keung offered this "simple" analysis (End of the line for the pan-democrats? - subscription required):

All eyes are on the turnout rate for this Sunday's Legislative Council by-election. There are roughly 600,000 registered voters in the Hong Kong Island constituency. Judging by the results of the recent district council elections, the "loyalists" can be expected to rally upwards of 140,000 voters. Thus, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee - backed by the pro-Beijing camp - can count on these votes.

Therefore, a turnout of below 280,000 - or 47 per cent - would mean defeat for Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who has the backing of the pro-democracy camp. The logic is so simple that it almost defies further  analysis.

The turnout rates of most by-elections are low; in the last Legco by-election, in 2000, the figure was less than 34 per cent. If that were to be repeated, Mrs Chan would suffer a humiliating defeat.

Well, as we know, she did not suffer a humiliating defeat.  Perhaps more Interestingly, Regina Ip, somehow contrived to get only 137,550 votes.  If we accept the figure of 140,000 "cast iron" votes for pro-Beijing candidates, she somehow managed to misplace 2,500 of them.  Hardly a success story. 

Yet the spin that is being placed on this is that the "normal" result is a 60:40 margin in favour of the pro-democracy candidate, and as Regina Ip got more than 40% of the vote she can be judged to have been a success. 

Predictably, that was exactly the line that Lau Nai-keung took this week (Hello and goodbye):

The result of Sunday's Legislative Council by-election falls into the category of what I call a "humiliating victory". This is especially so in light of the extraordinarily high turnout rate of over 52 per cent which, according to conventional wisdom, favours the pro-democracy camp.

A winning margin of just 12 percentage points for Anson Chan Fang On-sang over Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee broke the long-held 60/40 rule (traditionally, democrats should expect 60 per cent of the vote to the pro-establishment's 40 per cent). This gave the "loyalists" ample space to declare their own victory. Isn't it nice to have a win-win outcome?

You can't have it both ways.  If you argue before the election that Regina Ip was guaranteed 140,000 votes and that Anson Chan could suffer a humiliating defeat, how can you describe 54.8% as a "humiliating victory"?

It's also bizarre to hear Beijing loyalists say that the democrats will always get 60% of the vote - all the more so after District Council elections when the DAB did well.  The democrats are surely entitled to be satisfied with the by-election result, as Chris Yeung points out in today's SCMP (A split decision):

The jury is still out on the election debut of what has been deemed the joint ticket of Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and the pro-Beijing, pro-government force in the Legislative Council by-election. Pointing to her 42.9 per cent vote share during a self-appraisal, the former secretary for security proclaimed her success in smashing the so-called "60-40 rule" for Hong Kong's direct elections.

She was referring to the widely held, though not necessarily accurate, notion that democrats should expect about 60 per cent of the total vote share in a "one person, one vote" election. The remaining 40 per cent would go to pro-Beijing, pro-government candidates.

Mrs Ip argued that, in view of by-election winner Anson Chan Fang On-sang's popularity, and her previous senior position in government, the former chief secretary should have been expected to garner around 70 per cent of the vote. In the end, Mrs Chan won 54.8 per cent.

Yet, Ng Hong-mun, a veteran adviser to the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, expressed disappointment with the result. He concurred with analysts that the margin of Mrs Chan's victory was larger than had been expected.

The Chinese-language Apple Daily quoted him as saying that they had predicted Mrs Ip would lose by no more than 20,000 votes; the actual figure was about 38,000.

But of course politics is like this all over the world.  Politicians are experts at finding highly-nuanced arguments that they they think make their party look good or their opponents look bad.  And we don't believe them.

Not sure why the SCMP bothers to print this nonsense, though...


Only in Hong Kong

A high-profile by-election in which the two main candidates are former civil servants (Democracy woman wins HK poll as the BBC rather strangely puts it).

How exciting is that?  In other places it might be a TV or film star, or at least a big-name politician, but not in Hong Kong.  No, we get two former civil servants, though admittedly both are very well-known.

One was widely reviled for her attempt to introduce security legislation (the so-called Article 23) that prompted 500,000 people to protest on the streets of Hong Kong.  The other ("Democracy Woman") is perceived as being unacceptable to Beijing, as if an elderly woman who ran the government under Tung Che-Hwa could really be any threat at all. 

Not that it matters, of course.  Members of the Legislative Council don't really have much power, so this amounts to an opinion poll on whether to press for democracy as soon as possible, or to be patient.  Which might explain why a meaningless by-election involving two former civil servants has actually been fairly lively.  Feelings do run high on both sides, and the two candidates represent what each side dislikes about the other.  Meanwhile, the rest of us look on somewhat perplexed.   

I suppose it's a classic 'chicken and egg' problem.  We don't have real democracy, so we don't have real political parties.  And life carries on fairly well in spite of that.