Date
20 October 2017
Hong Kong people take to the streets in a July 1 march demanding their voices be heard by Hong Kong and Beijing authorities. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong people take to the streets in a July 1 march demanding their voices be heard by Hong Kong and Beijing authorities. Photo: HKEJ

How will China redefine democracy in Hong Kong and why?

The Election Committee sub-sector election finished last week and a 1,200-member panel is in place to pick Hong Kong’s next chief executive in March.

But the waiting game has just begun. Everything is up in the air as Beijing weighs up its preferred candidate.

Meanwhile, only two among a number of potential aspirants have come forward with their respective candidacies.

What’s holding things up? 

Earlier this week, Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, warned that a competitive election could trigger conflict between various groups, races or religion and lead to confrontation between the rich and the poor.

He said clashes are inevitable in the absence of a shared conviction and sense of national identity.

“We have no intention to deny the importance of democracy, but when we take competitive elections as a key part of, or even the only measurement for, democracy, the judgment itself will undoubtedly be an erroneous one,” Tung told a forum organised by his Our Hong Kong Foundation.

Tung also criticised western-style democracy and efforts to promote Chinese-style consultative democracy.

Under the current regime, top leaders foster public consensus via a system of consultative conferences. Tung said the Chinese government achieved more than other emerging economies that follow the western democracy model such as India.

From Beijing’s perspective, the government should enable its people to have a stable, comfortable and prosperous life.

However, it seems that China is still far from achieving those goals.

Social unrest in local cities has been reported frequently after local governments ignored people’s voices such as those calling for infrastructure development.

If consultative democracy worked in China, what explains the outbreak of social unrest in the past few years?

And why did Tung give the comment just three months before the chief executive election?

It’s a fact that Hong Kong has yet to become a fully democratic entity given that the legislature and its leaders are not selected by way of one person one vote.

But that doesn’t mean Hong Kong people do not deserve the right to pick their own leaders.

While Tung blamed western-style democracy for social conflicts, he said consultative democracy in China or even in Hong Kong did not bring peace and harmony either.

The fact is that Beijing-type democracy is no different from mandatory loyalty to the Communist Party. Such loyalty is the first criteria for Chinese people to become involved in politics. And now, such norms are affecting Hong Kong as well.

Taking the current chief executive race as an example, the potential candidates have equivocated about their respective candidacies. Only retired judge Woo Kwok-hing and former security minister Regina Ip are declared candidates.

The reason is that they are waiting for the green light from Beijing’s top leaders. But as Woo earlier questioned, why don’t they declare their candidacies anyway?

There is no red light or green light in the race. It’s all up to the individual candidates’ personal consideration.

The ridiculous waiting game strongly shows how consultative democracy is eating into the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong.

Gradually, many Hong Kong issues are pending Beijing’s approval, undermining local government authorities.

The opposition camp in Hong Kong has been in existence for decades. They want a democratic government so as to bring the people’s voices to bear on policymaking.

But under Beijing’s rule, the opposition is treated as enemies of the central authorities.

Beijing just wants them to show their loyalty to the Communist Party first and foremost, or they have no say on political issues at all.

Against this backdrop, Hong Kong people’s voices, reflected by more than 50 percent of votes in the one-person one-vote mechanism in the Legislative Council elections, have been muzzled due to Beijing’s unfriendly attitude toward democrat lawmakers.

If political loyalty is the only goal of consultative democracy, it’s not democracy at all. It’s authoritarian rule.

Beijing recently has shown some signals to improve its relationship with traditional democrats. But on the other hand, it is trying hard to fight radical democrats.

It has to learn to respect different voices in Hong Kong if it does not want to trigger more anger among Hong Kong people.

–Contact us at [email protected]

SC/JP/RA

EJ Insight writer

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