The battle of wits between Hong Kong’s rival political camps and their supporters is set to become more pronounced in the coming weeks, as both sides up the ante on the issue of democratic reforms.
Pro-establishment politicians want the world to believe that Hong Kong people are willing to accept the central government’s roadmap on the chief executive election, which essentially would give a pass to one of Beijing’s handpicked candidates for the top post.
But the reality on the ground is that a significant section of the population still resents being short-changed on universal suffrage, and is calling for more protest action.
The mood is reflected in the newspaper pages and website of Apple Daily, which has been a vocal supporter of the democracy movement in the city.
The paper’s uncompromising stance has drawn immense page views and readers, and its fan page on Facebook recorded more than 1 million “likes” recently, pointing to the daily’s strong influence on the youth.
The pro-Beijing camp has sought to corner the paper’s boss, Jimmy Lai, over donations he made to pan-democratic lawmakers, by calling for a probe by the city’s anti-graft agency.
On Aug. 28, officials from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raided Lai’s home and also searched the home of his assistant Mark Simon, who is said to have been a conduit for passing donations.
Meanwhile, some legislators were put in the dock for allegedly not disclosing the donations they received from Lai.
But Lai, feisty as ever, has signaled that he won’t back down despite the official scrutiny.
Talking to reporters after a visit to the ICAC headquarters on Wednesday, the media mogul said he will continue to fight for true democracy and support people who share the same view.
The pro-Beijing camp has used stolen information from Lai’s computer to file complaints to the ICAC on the tycoon’s donation to several pan-democratic lawmakers, including the Labor Party’s Lee Cheuk-Yan.
Giving dark hints about corruption and conflicts of interest in the democratic camp, the pro-Beijing groups are seeking to discredit their rivals and chip away the moral high-ground they occupied in the current debate on the 2017 election reform.
By eroding the legitimacy of pan-democrats, the establishment camp aims to force the opposition to accept Beijing’s proposal.
Chinese leaders’ game plan is clear: they want their political reform plan to be approved by Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), so that Beijing can claim that it has fulfilled its pledge to grant universal suffrage in the special administrative region.
Towards this goal, the pro-Beijing camp has launched a series of campaigns in the past few months to win public support. But the tactics it deployed — such as setting up a reporting hotline on students participating in class boycott, and offering money to people to join pro-China marches — have only made things worse.
Latest opinion polls show that the proportion of Hong Kong people that is refusing to accept the Beijing-endorsed political reform package is on the rise. A poll by the South China Morning Post earlier this week showed 48 percent of respondents rejecting the Beijing proposal. In a previous poll, only around 35 percent had opposed the proposal.
The gradual increase in the opposition to Beijing’s proposal could be the result of moves by the pro-Beijing camp that were seen as violating the core values of Hong Kong. Also, the public is getting more insight on the details of Beijing’s plan, prompting more people to reject it.
In addition, the launch of class boycott next week, and nearly 100 scholars showing their support with public lectures for students, is helping build opposition to the Beijing proposal.
Against this background, Lai’s visit to the ICAC on Wednesday could fuel more debate in the coming days about the democracy campaign. There will be more media coverage in the days ahead, leading up to the Occupy Central group’s sit-in in the financial district on October 1.
With public opinion in a flux, pan-democrats and its backers such as Jimmy Lai will need to hold their ground until the political reform proposal is submitted to the LegCo for approval next year.
As for the government, it is expected to do all it can and try all means to turn the public’s focus to negative news surrounding the pan-democrats.
Who will blink first, this is what remains to be seen now.
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