Vote For Long Hair

Of course I’m biting my fingernails down to the cuticle, worried that my dear friend, Leung Kwok Hung, might not make it back into LEGCO–that compromised, politically hog-tied legislature of which he is the most interesting, and certainly the most principled member (show me another Hong Kong pol that lives in a council house flat, and gives away all his salary except $1,000 US a month!). The early LEGCO polls from HK University looked good, giving him about a 6.2 percentage share of the vote, which in Hong Kong’s convoluted “first past the post” electoral system, would return him to his seat, albiet at the bottom of the pack in his district, New Territories East.

But that was before Leung stood up in the stands at the first Hong Kong Olympic equestrian event and shouted “Human Rights for China”–and before Gary Chan Hak-kan, the smarmy, ex-Donald Tsang flunkie who is number 2 on the Beijing puppet DAB party ticket, got the idea that he could ensure winning a seat by picking off the bottom man on the list.

Here’s the latest HKU Public Opinion Poll for the New Territories East district, conducted between 17 and 23 August 2008. There are 7 seats up for grabs.

Gary Chan Hak-kan–I love it that this slimy opportunist pol has the given name of “Hak”–tried to sling mud at Long Hair during the RTHK radio debates this weekend by questioning his commitment to LEGCO. He asked: Why is Leung Kwok Hung bothering to run for office when he’d rather be out on the streets burning tyres and protesting? Long Hair, steamed up, pointed out his 95% attendance record in LEGCO, and demanded an apology from the DAB flunky, who earned $80,000 HKD (around $10,000 US) a month in his sinecure as Donald Tsang’s Xerox copy boy, and has never held elective office. Retorted Long Hair: “I’m working for HK people in the streets AND in the legislature…and where were you?”

Slime is a time-tested political tool, and it is especially effective when slung around in Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing press echo chamber, in newspapers like Wen Wei Po, Tai Kung Pao, and Oriental Daily, which essentially photocopy each other’s anti-Long Hair stories. This week’s HK University poll has Long Hair’s share down to 5.7, which might lose him his seat. The margin of error here is plus or minus 2.7, so it’s hard to tell what’s what. And I wonder, too, about the HK POP survey methods***

When I talked on the phone to Long Hair, he was feeling positive–“This time the people I meet on the street are much more enthusiastic than the last campaign. I feel good.”

But in a few days, the pro-Beijing parties are gonna pull their trump card: an “Olympic Gold medal parade” of China’s victorious athletes is coming to town. Funny, every time Hong Kong has an election, suddenly there’s a special envoy from up north, bringing the treasures of the motherland to the citizens of the Big Lychee. We’ve had astronauts and alleged finger bones of the Buddha, and now there will be golden heroes of diving, ping pong and women’s wrestling to remind us of the wonderful things that await those who keep their head down and follow the lead of the Chinese Communist Party.

Actually, I don’t think the Hong Kong voters are going to be fooled by the Olympic parade any more than by the Buddha bone or the astronaut. People in the city are sophisticated enough to see through PR manipulation. (That’s why NT LEGCO candidate Scarlet Pong Oi-Lan wins the Learning Cantonese Clueless award for her weekend stunt of inviting reporters to join her on a free helicopter ride over the Shenzhen border, piloted by a film-throb famous for his clumsy Cantonese, Michael Wong Man-Tak)

Still, I wonder how many voters are bold enough to believe that voting for a maverick like Leung Kwok Hung can do anything to staunch the tidal wave of history. The greatest success of the Beijing Olympics is the way it has cemented not only the power of the Chinese Communist Party, but also the image of China’s inevitability. The inevitability factor may discourage the Hong Kong voter who might be a natural Long Hair supporter from coming out to vote on September 7th. What is the point of trying to push the river?

Obviously I hope this doesn’t happen. You understand, I am an unabashed partisan here. I actually do believe that a noisy, unbought and unsold candidate like Long Hair makes a difference to the future of Hong Kong. I also think that LH’s triple-threat combo of street protests, High Court judicial review challenges, and standing up to the hypocrisy of HK’s leaders in the LEGCO chamber is worth more than a dozen lawyerly intellectual types like the pro-democracy camp’s front runner in New Territories East, Ronnie Tong. Because, when Beijing forces turn the pressure on a legislator to vote their way, a solidly upper middle class professional like Tong not only will vote according to his class interest, but he has much, much more to lose. (And, so say the batgwas, there are certain reasons why Tong is even more vulnerable to Beijing’s arm-twisting than his party-mates.) When the big crunch comes, odds are he will cave.

But there’s no twisting the arm of a man who has no money and lives in a 300 square foot tenement box surrounded by his books.

This is the kernel of the English language manifesto I wrote for Long Hair’s campaign (which may surface as a flyer in the expat ghettos of Sai Kung at some point, at least I hope so). Yes, it is true, I’ve become a Hong Kong political hack (as distinguished from a Hak-kan). Actually, the term used in HK politics is hak sau, which means “black hand”—ghost writer. Ha! Which translated back into Cantonese would be gwai jok ga.

When I get back to HK later this week, you may find this gwai-lo ghostwriter  in Sai Kung, passing out leaflets, waving hello to fellow English-speaking Leung Kwok Hung supporters like this one.

See you, then, in a few days, on the campaign trail.

***According to the HK University Public Opinion website, the survey method is phone interviews, and the phone numbers are chosen from published lists. Since something like 95 percent of Hong Kongers use cellphones, I wonder about this survey method. Do their lists include cell numbers, or just land lines? If it’s the latter, then I would figure the survey skews towards the stay-at-home pensioner, the traditional backbone of the DAB.
    What’s more, the survey method includes only Cantonese speakers over the age of 18. There’s a sizable number of English-dominant speakers in Hong Kong with voter eligibility–according the the 2006 census, nearly 100,000 alone in Long Hair’s New Territories East district. To give you an idea of proportion, in the 2004 election, Long Hair won with a total vote count of 62,000.

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