By David Osland
Electoral colleges exist precisely to frustrate the will of the majority of any given electorate, and that’s what makes them irresistibly attractive to bureaucrats and authoritarians the world over.
In the US, they have twice this century delivered the White House to Republican nominees who secured fewer votes than Democratic rivals, thanks to a system weighted to empower smaller GOP-leaning states.
In Burma, an electoral college in which the country’s armed forces carry the same clout as either legislature selects presidential candidates, putting the job in the gift of the military.
In Iran, presidential hopefuls need the permission of the Guardian Council even to get onto the ballot paper, thus handing a veto to the Supreme Leader.
It’s even the method the Vatican utilises when choosing a new pope, a process which sees the world’s 1.3bn Catholics left with no say whatsoever.
Needless to say, when China wanted to ensure Hong Kong was controlled by a supine, compliant and handpicked ‘chief executive’ and legislative council, an electoral college was created as just the tool for the job.
As some have pointed out, the step marks a volte face on many promises made by Beijing on retaking sovereignty of the former British colony. That’s never a good sign in politics.
It’s as if the mass movement for democracy in the city over the last few years, one of the few bright spots in Asian news coverage since the middle of the last decade, now counts for nothing.
Power is instead in the hands of a 1,500-member election committee, including ‘patriotic groups’, ‘District Crime Fight Committees’ and representatives of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a body whose meetings invariably take place in a hall festooned with the national flag.
How encouraging, then, that the Labour Party here in Britain has consistently spoken up for democracy. In Hong Kong.
Stephen Kinnock, for instance, has condemned the Chinese government’s depredations.
As he noted before the House of Commons, out-of-favour MPs are removed from office willy-nilly, and a new law prevents critics of the leadership from standing for positions in the first place.
Kinnock and Nandy are entirely right: any move from one person one vote to an electoral college stacked in the interests of totalitarian juntas and reactionary theocrats is an obviously retrograde step.
In the name of moral consistency alone, let them be opposed wherever they are introduced.
David Osland is a long-time leftwing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland
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