16 September 2019
As a stronghold of local social activists, Lingnan University is likely to be the next target of subjugation  by Leung Chun-ying's administration. Photo:HKEJ
As a stronghold of local social activists, Lingnan University is likely to be the next target of subjugation by Leung Chun-ying's administration. Photo:HKEJ

Beijing’s authoritarian control is rearing its ugly head

While over the past few weeks, the controversy over the appointment of a pro vice chancellor at the University of Hong Kong has grabbed the headlines, other, more insidious events have remained mostly under the radar.

First, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying appointed two pro-establishment lawyers, Junius Ho Kwan-yiu and Maggie Chan Man-ki, to the governing board of Lingnan University.

Second, the pro-establishment camp succeeded in winning the chairmanship and the vice chairmanship of the Legislative Council’s House Committee and its Finance Committee.

These two incidents didn’t take place at the same time out of pure coincidence.

In fact, they may be just the beginning of an even more aggressive onslaught orchestrated by Beijing to suppress academic freedom in our city and tighten its control over Legco.

In other words, a political pincer movement planned by Beijing could be underway in a naked attempt to tighten its grip on our city both from within the system (Legco) and from without (our universities).

It is a typical pattern of how rulers in an “electoral authoritarian regime” reinforce their power through the use of “authoritarian control”.

As a matter of fact, many local commentators have pointed out in recent years that our city is heading toward an  “electoral authoritarian regime”, under which civil society is suppressed and the political scale is tilted in favor of those in power, and this trend has become increasingly irreversible.

For example, among the members of the governing boards of our eight universities, a considerable number of them, ranging from 5 percent to as much as 30 percent, are members of either the National People’s Congress or the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — or simply put, pro-Beijing — making it relatively easy for the central government to interfere in the internal affairs of our universities by pulling their strings.

Lingnan University has long been the stronghold of social activists.

Many lecturers and students are seasoned leaders of local social movements in their own right, giving Leung’s administration enough reason to take it as the next target of subjugation following HKU.

Appointing a couple of new members to the Lingnan council may not be able to give the government enough votes to take complete control of the university, but I am afraid that more new appointments may be in the pipeline.

Then there is the other battlefront, Legco.

In the past, the pro-establishment and the pan-democratic camps could always work out the chairmanship and vice chairmanship of the various committees and panels in Legco through dialogue.

However, things seemed to have changed these days, and the pro-establishment camp, which has a slight majority in Legco, is determined to throw its weight around and is taking no prisoners this time in the fierce race with the pan-democrats for control of the various committees.

In fact this could just be a prelude to Beijing’s grand strategy: to help the pro-establishment camp defeat the pan-democrats in next year’s Legco election once and for all by obtaining a two-thirds majority so that pro-Beijing lawmakers can have complete control of our legislature.

To achieve that, Beijing would go to any lengths, such as electoral manipulation, electoral falsification and vote-rigging, and there are signs that these dirty tricks have become increasingly rampant in our city.

On the surface, politics in Hong Kong seems to be in a state of tranquility at this moment, but in fact Beijing’s behind-the-scene maneuvers are now in full swing, and the dark clouds of the “electoral authoritarian regime” loom bleakly in the distance.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 13.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Researcher at SynergyNet