Elections in Hong Kong: Making a Simple Decision Complicated

First published: 05th December 2011

The time for the election of Hong Kong's third Chief Executive approaches. The actual election will take place on 25th March 2012, and, at the time of writing, there are four people likely to be nominated as candidates: Henry Tang, Leung Chun-ying, Regina Ip and Albert Ho. The democratic ideal would be that each Hong Kong person chooses the candidate they think would be the best person to lead Hong Kong, a simple choice of one out of four.

However, this is Hong Kong politics, so it is not that simple. Instead of being directly elected, the Chief Executive is elected by 1200 people who are members of the Election Committee. The Election Committee is, itself, elected by members of the Functional Constituencies. The Election Committee Election takes place on 11th December 2012. Each Functional Constituency represents an industry or special-interest group, such as Finance, Medical, Religious etc. I am a member of the Information Technology Functional Constituency, that gets to elect 30 members of the Election Committee. In the current Election Committee Election, there are 61 candidates nominated in the IT Functional Constituency.

Much has been written about the unrepresentative nature of the Election Committee, such as only 0.01% of Hong Kong's population is eligible to vote in the Election Committee Elections. I want to focus on the complexity of the voter's decision-making process.

If the Chief Executive was directly elected, I, and other voters, would make a choice between four options: the four nominated candidates.

With the Election Committee system, I, as an IT Functional Constituency voter, must choose the thirty candidates that I think will best represent my view of who would be the best person to lead Hong Kong from the sixty-one nominees. A simple calculation reveals that there are 2.33x1017 different combinations. That is an unimaginably larger complexity than choosing one from four.

Now, it could be said that I just need to sort the candidates in order of preference, and choose the top thirty. Employing the Quick Sort algorithm, I would just need to make (on average) O(nlogn) = 109 comparisons. That is still a lot more than the three comparisons needed for a direct election.

It also assumes that I have a reliable method of deciding which candidate would be better at representing my view. A political leader is chosen for his/her ability to make decisions and lead for the whole term of office, five years, in the case of the Chief Executive, and it would be naive to assume that a candidate would make the same decision as you, the voter, would on every issue during that time. We assess leaders on their overall performance, and hold them accountable. Election Committee members are elected to make just one decision, where is the accountability?

Irrelevant Note

The Registration and Electoral Office slogan for this election is, "VOTE for the Future". You mean there's a choice? Can I vote for a return of 1984, instead?


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