On Sep 1, China’s legislature announced strict requirements for how Hong Kong residents should elect their leaders starting in 2017. Last night, Hong Kong residents got a taste of what that process might look like, in the form of the Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant.
Over 156,000 viewers voted for this year’s Miss Hong Kong, Veronica Shiu, a 24-year-old university student who likes running, yoga, and Michael Jackson. The contest was meant to be an example of the “one man, one vote” system—except for the fact that a panel of judges selected the finalists, and viewers complained that the panel had too much power.
Pre-selecting beauty pageant finalists isn’t all that different from the election process that Beijing has proposed, viewers observed. China says that all candidates running for Hong Kong’s chief executive should secure at least half of the support of a nominating committee that critics say will be stacked with Beijing-sympathetic members. The proposal still has to be approved by Hong Kong legislature, which is under pressure from pro-democracy politicians and activists promising to occupy the city’s financial district.
Hong Kong viewers called the beauty pageant an example of the “pseudo suffrage” the semi-autonomous Chinese territory will have if Beijing has its way. Boxun, an overseas Chinese publication often critical of China, mockingly asked whether the NPC’s decision had been modeled after Hong Kong’s beauty pageant (link in Chinese).
A graphic by local Hong Kong media posted on Facebook compares the voting system for the pageant and Hong Kong’s chief executive. In the beauty pageant (left-hand column), a committee of five judges chooses three finalists from the top 10 ranked contestants. In the chief executive election, according to Beijing’s proposal, two to three candidates will stand for popular vote after garnering support from at least half of a 1,200-member nominating committee:
The Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant, which dates back to the 1970s and has previously picked winners like Hong Kong actresses Maggie Cheung and Angie Chiu, first used public voting system in 2012. That year 14 million electronic votes, twice the amount of Hong Kong’s population, were cast but the station’s system crashed and the winner had to be chosen by judges.