With Agnes Chow Ting of Demosistō party barred from running in the upcoming Legislative Council by-elections, it indicates that Beijing has zero tolerance for not only independence advocacy but also for any suggestion of “democratic self-determination” as an option for Hong Kong.
The Chow saga raises two fundamental questions: First, is the notion pitched by the government that “self-determination” is against the Basic Law a legal explanation or a political interpretation?
Second, there is the issue of speech versus action. Over the years the people of Hong Kong have taken freedom of speech for granted, so much so it has become a deeply entrenched view among the public that one wouldn’t get into trouble for advocating or speaking up for any provocative cause such as secession from the mainland as long as they don’t translate the rhetoric into action.
However, the disqualification of Chow illustrates that even mere rhetoric can cost a person his or her right to stand for election. This automatically begs the question: apart from “independence through referendum” and “democratic self-determination”, is there any other politically taboo term which we should avoid?
For example, is it likely that in the days ahead, people who had once chanted slogans such as “Down with the Communist Party” or “Down with one-party dictatorship” will be informed that they had used taboo words?
Following Chow’s disqualification, what changes could be brought to our overall political environment?
As far as the by-election for the Hong Kong Island seat is concerned, Chow’s disqualification would most likely provoke a strong sense of righteous indignation among voters and tilt the balance of public opinion in the pan-democrats’ favor, thereby undermining the prospects of the pro-establishment candidate, Judy Chan Ka-pui from the New People’s Party.
As to Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who was given the green light to run in the Kowloon West constituency, his he could see his election prospects get stronger.
In the long run, Chow’s disqualification is likely to further deter pro-independence rhetoric in Hong Kong and reduce social controversy. Demosistō, for instance, has already revised the references to “democratic self-determination” in the Chinese version of its mission statement.
With the “stick” seeming to have worked, Beijing may perhaps be readying plans now for a “carrot”” for the next stage, sticking to a practice that it has used on Hong Kong many times in the past.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 3
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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