23 February 2019
A pro-democracy activist walks past a sign that signals disobedience during a rally organized by Occupy Central in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg
A pro-democracy activist walks past a sign that signals disobedience during a rally organized by Occupy Central in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg

Hong Kong: The shape of things to come

In a rare news conference Wednesday, former Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa made an emotional appeal to the locals to accept China’s proposal on the election process for the territory’s next leader.

The universal suffrage model may mean that Hongkongers can only choose from candidates approved by Beijing, but it’s still better than nothing, Tung and his fellow Beijing loyalists aver.

Now, if the Legislative Council (LegCo) passes the electoral reform bill, what will the former British colony look like after 2017?

Well-known political commentator Lian Yi-zheng writes in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, EJ Insight’s parent publication, that the biggest change we may see is an authoritarian government coming into place under the cloak of popular mandate — something that Beijing has been dreaming of since the 1997 handover.

The persons who will qualify for the race can only be Beijing’s puppets, given the rule that contenders must secure the support of at least half of the nominating body. Still, the winning candidate may well secure around half of the ballot from five million eligible voters through the “one person, one vote” suffrage and can therefore claim that he is elected with a clear mandate.

In this sense, the new chief executive can do whatever Beijing wants him to with righteousness. The leader may even try to bring in the controversial national security law back on the policy agenda.

Another aspect, according to Lian, is that future CE elections can only get more “harmonious” as the screening mechanism will ensure that anyone who Beijing dislikes will get weeded out, including those who appear to be pro-Beijing but may tend to represent interests of a few business oligopolies.

Thus, not only will future elections be free from pan-democratic challengers, the process will also eliminate the covert battles between different cliques within the pro-government camp.

Beijing’s model of universal suffrage for the city will also enable it to marshal the masses and their mandate to its advantage. Lian argues that there will be a new business of agitprop, which will see more pro-government marches being organized just like last month’s anti-Occupy Central campaign. Organizers like Robert Chow will be awarded with more resources for future tasks.

As for pan-democrats, the Chinese legislature’s decisive ruling last Sunday was surely a setback, but being a critical minority bloc at LegCo, they can decide whether to pass the bill or not.

If some pan-democratic lawmakers take a U-turn and “defect” to Beijing’s side to pass the bill, the obvious consequence is that they may be further marginalized — with Beijing’s help they may still secure their seats in the 2016 LegCo election, but they can only become props to dress up the LegCo to make it look like a democratic one.

It’s likely that the distrust and confrontation between Beijing and Hongkongers will get fiercer but Lian believes the territory’s democratic movement will take a new turn to localization.

Due to Beijing’s rigidness and unrelenting grip on political development, the focus of the movement will shift from democracy and other abstract concepts to preserving Hong Kong’s existing values, and the “our city, our values” call may become more intuitive and widespread.

Even Occupy Central, which is losing morale after key organizers admitted that they failed to push the government into needed reforms, can perhaps drum up more support by changing its motto and theme from “occupy for democracy” to “occupy for our city”.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


If Occupy Central organizers and other pan-democrats can adopt a more localized approach to link their appeals to preserving Hong Kong’s existing core values, more people can be mobilized. Photo: Bloomberg

EJ Insight writer

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