Are we slipping into a dictatorship through emergency laws?

October 10, 2019 08:30
Rather than learning from her mistakes, Carrie Lam is committing more blunders and worsening the Hong Kong crisis, the author says. Photo: Reuters

A reporter once asked our chief executive if she could sleep at night after causing Hong Kong’s worst-ever political crisis with her extradition bill. She didn’t answer. I wonder if she had a restful night last Friday when her use of emergency powers to ban facemasks sparked violent city-wide protests.

I certainly didn't sleep well after covering the Friday protests. Nor did I sleep at all on October 1 when Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was toasting central government leaders in Beijing while I choked on teargas.

People expect leaders to learn from their mistakes. Did Lam learn anything at all from the political storm she caused with her disastrous bill? Most would agree she didn’t, yet she still has the gall to repeatedly demand an end to the violence.

The ongoing violence didn't suddenly spring out of thin air. It is a direct result of Lam’s many political blunders. Maybe she has forgotten violence came only after she ignored mass peaceful protests. Lam is known for mouthing absurdities. Remember when she said protesters had no stake in society?

She upped her absurdity last Saturday by saying Friday’s city-wide rampage proved a mask ban was necessary. Is she living in a parallel universe? Her mask ban sparked the rampage, for goodness sake. Lam wants an end to violence so Hong Kong can return to its former normal.

I wonder if there is a simple way to tell her Hong Kong’s former normal is gone forever. You cannot go back to something that no longer exists. Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu last week accused Hong Kong people of adding oil to the fire by not condemning the violence.

That’s on a par with Lam saying protesters have no stake in society, Senior Superintendent Vasco Williams saying a man the police allegedly beat up was just a yellow object, and Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung prejudging an inquiry by insisting the police officer who shot an 18-year-old did nothing wrong.

For the benefit of Mr Lee, ordinary Hongkongers are not pouring oil into the fire by staying silent about the violence. Rather, the government has poured gasoline into it with a mask ban that has further inflamed public outrage.

Has Lee asked himself why multiple polls show the vast majority of Hongkongers have lost faith in the government and the police? And why they support the protesters? Every time I cover a protest, I see people distributing bottled water, facemasks, goggles, and sterile sprays to rinse eyes from teargas.

Foreign forces are not funding this, ordinary people are. On October 1, a Wanchai coffee shop opened its doors for protesters trapped between advancing riot police firing teargas. I joined the dozens of protesters who rushed in. One young girl sprayed sterile solution to rinse my eyes.

When it was safe to leave, many offered money for the coffee they never ordered. The manager refused to take it. By failing to grasp this bond between ordinary Hongkongers and protesters, the government has shown how out of touch it is with the public mood.

In a way, we should thank Lam for her inability to understand ordinary Hongkongers. She has bared the inner psyche of Hong Kong for the world to see. People here were always labeled as politically moderate but in search of an identity after over a century of colonial rule. Are they Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, or Hongkongers?

Now we know. Most reject independence, support one country, two systems, but identify themselves as Hongkongers, not Chinese or Hong Kong Chinese. They don’t want patriotism, national education, a flood of mainland tourists, or respect for the national anthem forced on them. They have shown they will silently tolerate violence to preserve their identity.

Our chief executive and Beijing need to understand this if we are to find a new normal now that the old has gone forever. This new normal must combine the old Lion Rock spirit and the promised high degree of autonomy through genuine democratic elections with a new identity that young people have shown they are willing to risk jail for.

But Lam has failed to understand this even after plunging Hong Kong into a political dark age that has seen millions march, thousands of young people arrested, the city trashed, and the MTR shut down. Instead, she has refused to rule out using further emergency powers to quell the violence.

What next? Banning of young people wearing black clothes, the shutting down of popular social media platforms that protesters use, or even a curfew? Don’t think she won’t. If she can ban facemasks – with the excuse that Western democracies do that too even though we are not a democracy – she is capable of doing anything.

I have said before that Hong Kong is slipping into authoritarian rule. With Lam’s use of emergency laws that give her unlimited powers, I fear we are actually slipping into a dictatorship. I say this because she is not a democratically-elected leader. We must all fear slipping into a dictatorship when an unelected leader with unlimited powers has shown she is more than willing to use those powers.

People who can’t sleep count imaginary sheep jumping over a fence to help them fall asleep. Perhaps Lam can count the number of arrested young students whose lives she has ruined to help her sleep. The number of arrested students keeps rising. All the more to count! Sweet dreams.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.