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Your list or mine?

Many things puzzle me about Hong Kong politics, but one of the more confusing is the voting system used in the Legco elections.

I believe it is the same system that is now used in the UK for the European Elections (introduced five years ago, after I had fled the country). It is clearly fairer than single seat constituencies with first-past-the-post and it would work well if we had a small number of political parties fighting it out for the seats. However, as Hong Kong actually has a large number of different parties with overlapping platforms it does create some difficult problems.

Logic dictates that each grouping should compile a single list of candidates and then encourage its supporters to vote for that list - even thought it encompasses candidates for different parties. However, this apparently simple solution is fraught with difficulties (as pointed out by Andy Ho in this week's Spike). The parties have to agree on a combined list, and some candidates will be taking a risk in balancing their personal popularity against that of the list they have joined. Electors may be faced with a difficult choice as well, if their preferred candidate (or party) is low down the list and they have doubts about those at the top of the list.

So, although the pro-democracy grouping have come up with a single list in NT East, this hasn't happened elsewhere. Instead there are multiple lists, with the risk that votes could be wasted if one candidate or list is very popular at the expense of other lists. To try to counter this, they are encouraging supporters to split their votes, but obviously that is difficult to achieve! It also runs counter to the main purpose of party lists, which is to simplify voting.

The problems are less acute for the pro-Beijing parties because they are less fragmented, though this helps to explain why effort is being focused on the DAB and the Liberal Party at the expense of the HKPA (as explained at greater length in a Next article that is reprinted in this week's Spike).

The problem with voting systems is that each one has drawbacks and you can always argue about which produces the fairest results. I don't believe that this system to be especially unfair, but it isn't really suitable for Hong Kong today. However, it's a fact of life that political parties all over the world have to adapt their strategies to the voting system that is in use. In practice, voting systems are rarely changed, because the existing system will always benefit some parties, and any change will likely one party more than others (so even if there were an agreement to change, there probably won't be an agreement as to what new system to adopt). So you may the best of what you've got.

For example, the British Labour Party was unhappy about the first-past-the post system when the Conservatives were in power, but it now seems to work in their favour so they are most unlikely to make any change. Of course the Liberal Democrats are unhappy because they are under-represented, but they do now have many more MPs than was previously case because they are playing the system better. The irony is that you need to get into power to get any change pushed through, and then you don't want to do it! So it seems very unlikely than anything will change in the UK or Hong Kong.

and now coming right up, more adverts

Giles is complaining about Hong Kong TV. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, and I have to agree with him that although we should consider ourselves fairly lucky with the choice of foreign-made programmes that are shown on local TV, the way they are presented seems to be getting increasingly irritating.

The latest innovation on TVB Pearl is that they announce a show as “coming right up’ and then slip in a couple of commercials before it starts. They also run programme trailers in the middle of the commercials rather than at the beginning or end of the break. It all serves to blur the distinction between programmes and commercials, and is presumably aimed at people who fast forward through the commercials. They also seem to be varying the length of breaks for the same reason.

All this comes on top of the sponsored micro-programmes that we now have to endure. These include ‘Science Minutes’ sponsored by the Delia School of Canada, Olympic Minutes, the timecheck sponsored by Raymond Weill, and the frankly puzzling ‘Earth Live’. What they have in common is that are very cheap to produce and presumably generate good revenue from the sponsoring company.

Part of the deal seems to be that they run trailers for the sponsored programmes (obviously these are really nothing more than adverts). So ATV World are actually running trailers for the weather report: “Tonight at 7.55, the weather report, sponsored by Mr Wong’s pirate DVD emporium (or whoever it is)”. Good grief.

All of this means that it’s hard to know when programmes actually start. Pearl has its “MI 930” slot, so-called in spite of the fact that the programmes never actually start at 9.30 (it can be anything from 9.35 to 9.45), and one bugbear for me is that the timeslot for ‘The Apprentice’ is constantly changing.

It’s very frustrating, but we have to remember that the two English language channels only exist because the government insists on them as part of the licence conditions for ATV and TVB. The tiny audiences they get for most programmes mean that they not profitable, and so they will try almost anything to generate additional revenue. Even if it drives the viewers crazy!

Not looking good!

With less than a week to go until the start of the Premier League season, there still appears to be no information available about Cable TV's coverage.

The TV listing in yesterday's Post Magazine show games being shown by ESPN & Star Sports, but clearly that isn't going to happen. The Cable TV website says that details have yet to be confirmed, and although I believe that they are launching a new channel dedicated to the EPL, there is no further information available.

For example, there is no indication whether they will be showing one or two (or more?) of the Saturday afternoon 3 o'clock kick-offs live.

Come on, guys, get your act together!

Appearances can be deceptive

There has been a lot written about the book "Bonjour Paresse" (Hello Laziness - The Art and the Importance of Doing the Least Possible at the Workplace) that has recently been published in France. It follows in the fine tradition set by Scott Adams and others in satirising life in the workplace, and has tips on how to keep your job without working very hard.

Whilst I was walking around the office this morning, I was reminded of one excellent piece of advice in this book. It is vital to look busy, and so you should walk around looking purposeful and carrying papers or a file. This way your boss will assume that you are working hard, regardless of what you actually do. Very true.

Continue reading "Appearances can be deceptive" »


I recently went to the library for the first time in many years, and the first time ever in Hong Kong.

As a child I was a regular visitor to my local library. I remember the building as being a very modern glass and concrete structure with a curious split-level design. From the entrance you went down a few stairs to the children's library, or up to the adult library. I still have very strong memories of the place, though I haven't been there for many years.

Then when we moved (less than a mile) we started using another larger library that was in a much older building. Here the children's library had a separate entrance with a curious spiral staircase, and it also had a free car park for library users, which was very handy when I started to drive! I spent many happy hours there selecting books.

My other main memory is that this library had very weak systems to look after their stock. When you joined you were given three or four 'tokens' and when you took out a book they kept your token and gave it back to you when you returned it. However, they didn't actually track the individual books, so we discovered that you could take a book off the shelves of the library and "return" it in order to get an extra token. They also had a strange scheme whereby you could apply for additional tokens for 'serious' books, but this system also fell apart because when you returned the 'serious' book they gave you ordinary tokens!!

Needless to say, libaries now have computer systems that can track every book, though doubtless kids will still find some way to defeat the system!

I'm not quite sure why I got out of the library habit when I lived in the UK, or why it has taken me so long to join the library here. Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to encourage my son to start using the library, so I finally got round to joining. My son's approach is to go into the library saying he doesn't want any books, then pick the first 3 or 4 he sees on the shelves that look vaguely suitable. Now we have read them several nights in a row and he is asking if he can keep them!!

I spend a bit more time choosing my books, and of course I am too ambitious and select more than I can read in the two week loan period. The two I have read (or at least started) are Peter Hennessey's book about British Prime Ministers, and the second part of John Campbell's excellent biography of Margaret Thatcher. I'm not sure how long the latter book has been in stock, but I was the first person to borrow it!

The most impressive aspect of the system is the facility to renew your books over the Internet. Very quick and easy to use (and handy if you forget which books you have borrowed).

I think I may have got back into the library habit.

Fair and Balanced

It's amusing to see how some people either wilfully or accidentally misunderstand what is going on. Especially when they regard themselves as experts on the subject.

Take Conrad, for example (you're welcome, I don't want him). If there are two subjects you would expect him to get right, they would be law and politics. He's a lawyer, and reckons himself to be an expert on politics.

Last week he managed to confuse  [link deleted - site no longer available] the Progressive Alliance (PA) with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) when writing about Beijing's apparent plans to abandon the former to give more support to the Liberals and the DAB. Earlier, you may recall, he got very confused about the date of the Spanish General Election and very upset about comments made by the opposition leader about John Kerry (Americans, you understand, never interfere in other people's elections).

This week he compares  [link deleted - site no longer available] John Kerry's mixed results in the opinion polls to a 'dead cat bounce'. The point (I think) being that even a dead cat thrown from a high building bounces up in the air, but John Kerry didn't get much of a boost from the Democratic National Convention. In opinion polls we trust...

I suppose we have to ignore Conrad's earlier protestations that he couldn't support George W Bush and accept that he is a highly partisan Republican, but anyone who is following the election surely knows that it's close and Kerry is a serious threat to Bush. One opinion poll showing Bush in the lead proves nothing.

As Conrad surely knows very well, in this election there are very few floating voters. Most people have made up their mind either for or against Bush, and the result is going to be decided by what happens in a few 'swing' states. There is every chance that we will again see a candidate win the popular vote and lose the election (as happened to Al Gore). In short, it's going to be close, and both parties know it and are planning accordingly. It really doesn't matter whether Kerry trails at this stage or leads by 7%. What matters is how people vote in November.

Dead cat? I don't think so.

A pleasant drive

Watching TV last night I caught a very amusing piece of fiction.

Yes, the one with the happy smiling minibus driver kindly requesting his passengers to fasten their seat belts. Then he turns the key in the ignition to start the engine before pulling away.

This must come from a parallel universe where minibuses are quite unlike the ones I travel on. Yes, the ones where the engine is always running, the driver stops momentarily for passengers to clamber onboard before setting off at top speed and crashes the gears at every opportunity.

Not that seat belts are a bad idea - in fact they will be very useful when the minibus goes round bends at 50 mph - but I fear that travelling on minibuses with always be 'interesting'.