The recent disqualification of several pro-independence candidates from the Legislative Council election has created a firestorm of controversy.
I believe the legal grounds on the basis of which these candidates were disqualified are so flimsy that they can’t even stand the most basic scrutiny of the court.
The decision of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) to ban these candidates from running in the September election only paves the way for further legal disputes and endless lawsuits in the days ahead.
I am going to discuss the EAC’s verdict in detail in my upcoming articles. But what I’m really interested in looking at right now is the background to the government’s heavy-handedness against pro-independence activists and its political implications for our society.
First, I would like to look at how big a threat the pro-independence discourse really is.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Chinese University, 17 percent of the respondents were in favor of Hong Kong’s secession from the mainland after 2047. In the age group of 15 to 24, up to 40 percent favored the idea.
The poll results immediately grabbed headlines, and the Chinese University even came under fire from pro-Beijing newspapers for conducting a poll on such a provocative subject.
Since media reports were mostly focused on the percentage of people in favor of independence, the majority are largely ignorant about another important finding of the same poll: 13 percent of the respondents were in favor of Beijing abolishing the “one country, two systems” policy and taking direct and complete control of our city after 2047.
On the other hand, only 3.6 percent of the respondents sincerely believed that Beijing would ever allow Hong Kong full independence, indicating that while many people might be discontented with Beijing’s continued interference in our city’s affairs, only a handful of them are truly convinced that seeking independence is a realistic option.
In other words, the pro-independence issue has been, to a certain extent, magnified, if not exaggerated, by the media as it has failed to provide the public with a full picture of the results of the poll.
Based on the findings of the poll, it is logical to infer that among the 17 percent who showed support for independence, the vast majority of them actually did so just to give vent to their anger over Beijing’s continued infringement of Hong Kong’s autonomy and their disillusionment with “one country, two systems”.
So what Beijing and the SAR government are actually dealing with here is not a real separatist movement, but rather, a separatist sentiment.
Therefore, it is important that they don’t blow things out of proportion, and start addressing the grievances that have given rise to such sentiment.
Like I said in one of my previous articles about half a year ago, the rapid rise of separatist sentiment in our city, especially among the younger generation, has its roots in the widespread public discontent with Beijing’s relentless interference in our city’s internal affairs, the complete disillusionment with “one country, two systems” among many of our fellow citizens, and their dismay at the erosion of our core values and our existing way of life.
Unfortunately, six months on, both Beijing and the SAR government have done very little to restore public confidence in “one country, two systems”.
To make things worse, recent developments such as the saga of the bookseller Lam Wing-kee and what happened to the Independent Commission Against Corruption lately have only further alienated the people and undermined public confidence in “one country, two systems”, which is already hanging by a thread.
And the disqualification of pro-independence candidates is likely to backfire because it will not only provoke a strong public backlash against such an unconstitutional decision, but also boost public support for radical and anti-Beijing candidates.
Banning pro-independence activists from running for Legco cannot restore public confidence in “one country, two systems”. Instead, it might do the opposite.
As the old saying goes, “do not throw the baby out with bathwater”.
I sincerely hope that both Beijing and the SAR government can think about it carefully: is it really worth it to crack down on the pro-independence rhetoric, which doesn’t constitute any real threat, at all costs, even at the expense of our rule of law and social harmony, which are the cornerstones of our city’s continued prosperity?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 3.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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