Saturday, June 15, 2024

Hong Kong Elections in the Eye of a Foreigner

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As one of the few remaining bastions in China where democratic process that allows the public to elect local leaders, Hong Kong’s elections is an eagerly awaited event not just by candidates and voters, but by the international community.

As registered voters, we expatriates also have the right to cast our vote and let our voice be heard. In my case, even if I missed casting ballots in the previous two elections, the Registration and Electoral Office allowed me to once again exercise that right to vote.

So far, here are some notable observations from a foreigner’s point of view.

1. Mailbox full
Our mailbox has become filled with political advertisements more than utility bills and financial statements combined. The mere fact that some of these campaign materials bear our names and home addresses mean these pieces of communication are not merely circular mails which Pizza Hut or some random beauty salon tries to distribute across all empty mailboxes. These are letters which we are forced to receive even if we don’t know the candidate, can’t read the message — more on this later — and did not subscribe to such mailings to begin with.

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Maybe I didn’t pay attention when I registered as a voter that by default, unless I opt out, I am bound to receive these materials wooing for my vote. I barely read them so their value is close to negligible and mailing them is unnecessary since the Registration and Electoral Office will anyway send a couple of thick booklets displaying the profile of such candidates.


I have already seen enough of these candidates on the MTR and bus billboards, Google ads and newspapers so stuffing them into the mailbox is a bad user experience. If only we can mark these unwanted mail as spam so the postman would forward them to the nearest rubbish bin.

2. Not all information is available
When I read the candidate information provided by the Registration and Electoral Office, not all were understood. While some had quite the flair and took time to prepare their copy, others were done in haste.

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When provided space to write down their platform of government, some candidates were very candid, offered their message in both Chinese and English content and that impresses me. Why? Because even if English and Chinese are the official languages of Hong Kong, it appears that English language as means of communication is being left off in many ways.


Many candidates provided information only in Chinese language, which could be interpreted as they are saving resources such as translators, copy editors or white space to focus on the majority of the voting population by using only one language. We understand some politicians have issues when communicating in English but such gesture of monolingual messaging can easily be understood as leaving out the non-Chinese members of the society in their plans and platforms.

Still I am thankful that there are candidates who practice the bilingual communication we are used to seeing in Hong Kong signs.

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Talk is cheap, and politicians promise you the moon. But it’s better than not understanding the  message at all.

Would we buy a product if we don’t understand its label? Like the locals, we foreigners also interested to know who is planning to do what.

3. Personality competition
As the day of elections ads on buses, newspapers, Internet and the MTR have become virtual picture frame of political candidates. We see them endorsed by veteran politicians, cuddling the frail and vulnerable members of the society, or simply looking great and imposing in their best wardrobe.


To the uninformed, which can be anyone in Hong Kong, it is not so easy to tell one at a quick glance: political candidate or celebrity tutor in a space normally reserved for celebrity endorsers.


You see, it’s all faces — whether you are wooing for votes, endorsing a shop or flaunting the high marks of your protégés.

Selection of candidates
We see some of the candidates already perform civic and community action prior to the election period so they already have inherent advantage over their newbie counterparts. As a foreigner it’s easy to dismiss the local electoral process and go on with life without wasting time and effort on it.  But since we have such privilege others cannot enjoy, might as well make the most of it.

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