The deck may be stacked, but the results still matter.
HONG KONGERS head to the polls on September 4th to pick their representatives in what, by China’s standards, is a remarkably democratic institution: the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (Legco). When China took possession of Hong Kong from the British in 1997 it promised the territory a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. In the run-up to these elections, the first since the “umbrella revolution” protests of 2014, local newspapers have been filled with candidates who mistrust those guarantees, and by some who want to renegotiate Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. Yet it can be taken for granted that a clutch of parties supported by the government in Beijing will continue to dominate Hong Kong’s political system. How does the territory’s democratic process work?
For more than 30 years Hong Kong’s political parties have been split roughly into two camps. On one side are the “pan-democrats”, who argue that only a democratic system can safeguard the civil liberties the territory enjoyed under the British (whom many of the pan-democrats opposed, before the handover). They stand against the “pro-government” or “pro-Beijing” politicians, who regard themselves as patriotic allies of their counterparts in the rest of China. They tend to say that fair elections are less important than smooth relations with the Communist Party in Beijing. The role of Legco is to debate the laws and budgets put forward by the territory’s executive branch. Read the rest of this entry »
Beijing wants pro-democracy activists to go away. Instead, they’re getting elected.
Suzanne Sataline writes: In late 2014, Hong Kong protestors used umbrellas to shield themselves as police soaked them with pepper spray. Student leaders demanded elections free of intrusion from the Chinese central government, capturing headlines around the world, but their efforts failed. On Sept. 4, city residents pushed back again. Voters elected several of those young activists to the city’s legislature, a sharp rebuke to Beijing’s increasing encroachment on political life in the city.
“By the terms of its constitution, called the Basic Law, Hong Kong has autonomy, but with an asterisk. Individual residents cannot elect the city’s leader, nor try to change policies through referenda; they pick just half of their lawmakers. “
A record 2.2 million people queued to cast ballots — hundreds reportedly waited at one polling station past two o’clock in the morning — in the financial capital’s first city-wide election since protests two years earlier. Voters tossed several veteran moderates from the Legislative Council (LegCo), and replaced them with six activists who want to wrest Hong Kong from mainland China’s control. While the chamber’s majority still tilts toward Beijing — thanks mostly to voting rules that grant greater power to trade and industry groups — the new term will seat 30 lawmakers who favor democracy in the 70-member chamber. They will collectively pose a greater obstacle to the city’s unpopular chief executive, C.Y. Leung, a man widely considered too deferential to Beijing.
“This arrangement of 19 years — engineered by the British crown, enforced by mainland China after it took Hong Kong back — never sought, and was never given, resident approval. Hence the widespread, youth-driven protests two years ago, quickly dubbed the Umbrella Movement.”
By the terms of its constitution, called the Basic Law, Hong Kong has autonomy, but with an asterisk. Individual residents cannot elect the city’s leader, nor try to change policies through referenda; they pick just half of their lawmakers. This arrangement of 19 years — engineered by the British crown, enforced by mainland China after it took Hong Kong back — never sought, and was never given, resident approval. Hence the widespread, youth-driven protests two years ago, quickly dubbed the Umbrella Movement.
Since then, Beijing appears to be tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city. Many residents were unsettled when five members of a local book publisher disappeared last year, and yet Hong Kong’s government seemed to do little to help. (One man later resurfaced, sharing details of how he’d been kidnapped by state security and held for months in mainland China; a colleague is still missing.) A sudden demotion and resignations at the city’s independent graft commission signaled that the lauded agency might not be so independent anymore. The central government’s chief lawyer in Hong Kong said in April that the government could deploy British colonial laws still on the books, such as those for treason and sedition, to prosecute independence activists. This summer, the city government’s Electoral Affairs Commission barred six candidates from the LegCo race, five of whom demand either independence, or a vote on the issue among Hong Kong residents. (The commission’s chairman is appointed by the city’s chief executive.)
“Since then, Beijing appears to be tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city. Many residents were unsettled when five members of a local book publisher disappeared last year, and yet Hong Kong’s government seemed to do little to help.”
But that didn’t stop the election of young upstarts who aim to amend the constitution, expand voting rights, and bolster civil liberties. Sixtus “Baggio” Leung of a new party called Youngspiration thinks Hong Kong should declare independence from China. (None of the Leungs mentioned in this article are related.) Nathan Law, at age 23 the youngest lawmaker in city history, believes residents deserve a vote for self-determination. Beijing officials “are scared of our influence because we are not controllable,” Law, a leader in the 2014 protests, said. “We can mobilize people and arouse people and create enough tension between Hong Kong and China.”
“A sudden demotion and resignations at the city’s independent graft commission signaled that the lauded agency might not be so independent anymore. The central government’s chief lawyer in Hong Kong said in April that the government could deploy British colonial laws still on the books, such as those for treason and sedition, to prosecute independence activists.”
Some of those activists have been preaching on radio and street corners that Hong Kong is historically and culturally separate from China. The city, they have said, cannot trust China, and city residents should decide their own fate. By July, according to one survey, more than 17 percent of residents, and nearly 40 percent of those aged 15 to 24, said the city should separate from China when the “one-country, two-systems” plan ends in 2047. In August, the banned candidates organized what they called the city’s first independence rally, drawing several thousand people. One of the organizers was Edward Tin-kei Leung, a 25-year-old philosophy student born on the mainland. Read the rest of this entry »
Candidates from new parties who want greater autonomy for Hong Kong from China won legislative seats in Sunday’s vote–the city’s first major elections since large pro-democracy protests in 2014.
Elections for the Hong Kong Legislative Council were held Sunday with near-record turnout in the city. Many are voting for younger, more democratic candidates who want to become more independent from increasingly authoritative mainland China.
Weston Williams reports: In 1997, when Hong Kong underwent its “handover” from the British government to China, the deal carried with it the promise that, for the next 50 years at least, the former British colony would be largely autonomous from the Chinese mainland. The historic agreement created an unusual bond between the largely democratic island and the authoritarian communist state of which it is now a part.
In recent years, however, the handover that created “one country, two systems” has been called into question, as mainland China has increasingly tried to impose its will on the city.
On Sunday, these questions were brought to the forefront as Hong Kong voters turned out in near-record numbers to decide this term’s members of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo). Pro-democracy candidates hope to win enough seats to resist the pro-Beijing establishment in the first election following the student-led “Umbrella Movement” protests in 2014.
At least by Chinese standards, LegCo is a significantly democratic institution. The council consists of 70 seats that accept both pro-Beijing politicians as well as the “pan-democrats,” politicians who support the idea that the civil liberties enjoyed under the British can be preserved only through democratic action. But of those 70 seats, only 40 are directly elected by citizens of Hong Kong. According to the Economist, the remaining 30 seats belong to “functional constituencies,” which are chosen by groups representing business interests, professionals, and rural communities. The design of the constituencies has ensured that the majority of LegCo legislators have been pro-Beijing since the handover.
According to Reuters, Hong Kong’s pan-democratic opposition currently controls just 27 seats in LegCo, giving it the power to block policies and some laws, but little else. While Hong Kong enjoys a great deal more freedom and democratic leeway than mainland China, many citizens feel the Beijing holds too much sway in city elections. Read the rest of this entry »
Force backs down after being accused of trying to whitewash the city’s history and role played by pro-Beijing radicals.
Christy Leung reports: The Hong Kong police force has made an unexpected climbdown and is restoring its official account of the 1967 riots after causing a storm earlier this year by deleting parts of it.
A source told the Post the missing details would be reinstated on its archived website as early as Friday, and more historical details would be added to make the account “fuller”.
The U-turn was decided at a meeting of the Police Historical Records Committee yesterday.
It reverses a controversial move in mid-September to revise the official version of the riots, during which pro-Beijing radicals inspired by the Cultural Revolution sought to overthrow the colonial government.
The force replaced phrases like “communist militia” with “gunmen” and deleted detailed descriptions of events such as leftist mobs threatening bus and tram drivers who refused to strike.
Police were accused of trying to whitewash history out of political considerations. They were also ridiculed for claiming there was not enough space to publish full details online.
“[We are uploading the original version] to answer our readers’ calls and have no political agenda behind it,” the source explained yesterday.
“We think people nowadays are not into reading bulky and long paragraphs, but since they enjoy reading the full version, we are bringing it back.”
In addition to the original write-up, the history of women in the force and the Hong Kong Police College will be added to the website.
“We want to make the contents ‘finer’ and ‘fuller’, so that people can have a better understanding of police history,” the source said.
It is understood the committee is still reviewing the content and may upload the original version along with the new information on January 1 at the earliest. Read the rest of this entry »
Pro-Beijing Forces Target a Top School’s Leaders to Intimidate Professors.
The new school term in Hong Kong is off to a bad start. A year after university students led mass protests for democracy, the government is taking revenge against pro-democracy voices in the academy.
The crackdown is especially harsh at elite Hong Kong University, where the governing council last week blocked the appointment of former law dean Johannes Chan to the senior post of pro-vice chancellor. Mr. Chan was the only candidate recommended by a search committee.
The problem is that Mr. Chan is a human-rights and constitutional lawyer with moderate pro-democracy views. He has done academic work with his HKU law colleague Benny Tai, founder of the group Occupy Central With Love and Peace, which helped start the street protests last year.
For months Mr. Chan faced a smear campaign, with hundreds of articles in pro-Beijing newspapers condemning his “meddling in politics.” Critics accused him of mishandling a donation to Mr. Tai, but the governing council cleared him of wrongdoing earlier this year. Nevertheless the council denied his appointment last week by a 12-8 vote.
Council deliberations are meant to be confidential, but leaks suggest Mr. Chan was supported by the council members drawn from HKU’s faculty. Read the rest of this entry »
Because that’s how we roll: The Communist Party’s way of doing business is coming to the city
Thankfully, this time there is no bloodshed or widespread mayhem. But Beijing’s local loyalists are using some of the same rhetorical tactics to isolate and intimidate pro-democracy figures.
“Now in Hong Kong opposition politicians and their supporters are routinely accused of consorting with and being funded by foreign powers; of advocating the violent overthrow of the state; and of perpetrating child abuse—the last charge based on the large numbers of young people who joined Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests.”
Back then the search was on for “traitors” who were named, shamed and then terrorized, often to a fatal degree. Now in Hong Kong opposition politicians and their supporters are routinely accused of consorting with and being funded by foreign powers; of advocating the violent overthrow of the state; and of perpetrating child abuse—the last charge based on the large numbers of young people who joined Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests.
“Less-high-profile individuals have also encountered employment problems. RTHK, the public broadcaster, is under relentless pressure to sack certain people. And in privately owned media, columnists have been removed and other journalists have been told that the time has come to toe the line.”
These sorts of accusations are routinely found on the pages of Hong Kong’s increasingly rabid Communist newspapers. While largely ignored by the bulk of the population, these publications are carefully scrutinized by the leaders of the local government because their content enjoys Beijing’s imprimatur.
“The Communist press has also been in the forefront of a wider campaign to “expose” the democratic movement’s leaders, accusing them of being in the pocket of overseas governments and in receipt of illicit funding.”
One of their current targets is Johannes Chan, former dean of the law school at Hong Kong University and a respected professor. His main “crime” is his association with another legal scholar, Benny Tai. Mr. Tai was one of the founders of the Occupy Central movement that morphed into the Umbrella Movement street protests last year.
The communist press has been busy darkly hinting that Prof. Chan is somehow involved in unlawful funding of the protest movement and that he neglected his academic duties. Following these accusations, his appointment to a pro-Vice Chancellor post was blocked.
- Hong Kong’s Occupy Central Plans Civil Disobedience Protest in October
- CHINA’S Ticking Clock: Critical Hong Kong Vote Ruling by Beijing Coming Soon
- Beijing: China Legislature Rules No Open Nominations for Hong Kong Leader
- Hong Kong Democracy Movement Losing Mojo
- Beijing Gets Ugly in Hong Kong
- ‘Insufficiency of Mutual Trust’: Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protesters to Get Pro Bono Aid
Another academic targeted was political scientist Joseph Cheng, who was demoted prior to retirement and threatened with a denial of his pension. The accusations in this instance were even more extreme, ranging from charges of plagiarism to abuse of office.
The Communist press has also been in the forefront of a wider campaign to “expose” the democratic movement’s leaders, accusing them of being in the pocket of overseas governments and in receipt of illicit funding. Read the rest of this entry »
The territory blocks Beijing’s preferred election law
Hong Kong democrats celebrated Thursday as the city’s legislature blocked passage of the Beijing-backed election law that sparked last year’s 75-day mass protests. Not that this was a surprise. Beijing’s vision of democracy—a rigged election in which Hong Kongers could vote only for candidates chosen by a small pro-Beijing committee—was politically dead on arrival.
“All 27 pro-democracy legislators voted no and even picked up a vote from outside their caucus. The pro-Beijing camp staged a disorderly last-minute walk-out, leaving only eight votes in support of Beijing’s proposal. The veto would have held either way, but the scene was an appropriate end to the government’s attempt to subvert universal suffrage.”
Democrats in the legislature had the votes to block Beijing’s plan since it was announced last August. Then came the protests, during which democrats displayed greater numbers and determination than anyone expected. Public opinion, long critical of the government but divided on the reform vote, increasingly came to favor veto. Outside the legislature on Thursday, democrats outnumbered nominal pro-Beijing demonstrators, who wore matching shirts, refused to speak to the media and spoke Mandarin, not Hong Kong’s dominant Cantonese language.
“Unless Beijing puts forward a more acceptable plan, Hong Kong’s next leader will be selected in 2017 like the last, by a 1,200-member committee of the territory’s elite.”
All 27 pro-democracy legislators voted no and even picked up a vote from outside their caucus. The pro-Beijing camp staged a disorderly last-minute walk-out, leaving only eight votes in support of Beijing’s proposal. The veto would have held either way, but the scene was an appropriate end to the government’s attempt to subvert universal suffrage. Read the rest of this entry »
For the Chinese government, the defeat was a blow to its effort to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland. And it was a rare defeat for the country’s Communist Party
The outcome was expected, but the vote was called abruptly amid the second day of debate for the package, which would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to vote for their leader for the first time but required that candidates be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.
“After about 20 months of intense political wrangling, many people feel fatigued. No matter what the result today, society needs some time to calm down and reflect on what has happened over these past 20 months, and think about the future direction of Hong Kong.”
— Carrie Lam, the city’s No. 2 official who has spearheaded the effort to sell the electoral overhaul plan
Pro-government lawmakers walked out of the legislature before the vote, leaving the chamber filled with mostly opposition lawmakers, who had vowed to reject the plan. The vote was 28 against and eight in favor, with 34 not voting. The vote would have required a two-thirds majority to pass.
“After about 20 months of intense political wrangling, many people feel fatigued,” said Carrie Lam, the city’s No. 2 official who has spearheaded the effort to sell the electoral overhaul plan, in concluding remarks in the legislature just before the vote. “No matter what the result today, society needs some time to calm down and reflect on what has happened over these past 20 months, and think about the future direction of Hong Kong.”
“We used our sacred vote today to veto a fake universal suffrage proposal. We helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing that we want real choice. This isn’t the end of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. A new chapter starts today.”
— Alan Leong, a pro-democracy legislator, told reporters after the vote
The vote on Thursday marks probably the most critical event in Hong Kong’s political development since pro-democracy activists started angling for greater democracy in the territory in the 1980s. Ms. Lam said Thursday that she couldn’t predict at what point Hong Kong’s democratic development would resume.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 18, 2015
The rejection of the reform proposal was a victory for pro-democracy legislators who stuck to their pledge to reject the plan. The group had come under pressure from Beijing, which said they could be held to account for their votes. It was a serious defeat for Hong Kong’s government, which was forced to promote Beijing’s plan despite opposition in Hong Kong.
“We used our sacred vote today to veto a fake universal suffrage proposal,” Alan Leong, a pro-democracy legislator, told reporters after the vote. “We helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing that we want real choice. This isn’t the end of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. A new chapter starts today”. Read the rest of this entry »
Hong Kong (AFP) – Hong Kong lawmakers rejected a Beijing-backed political reform package Thursday as pro-democracy legislators united to vote down the divisive electoral roadmap that has sparked mass protests.
Most pro-government lawmakers staged a walkout as the bill headed for defeat, with just eight casting their vote in support of the package and 28 voting against it.
Isabella Steger reports: Hong Kong’s legislature is expected to vote down a proposal that would let the public directly elect the city’s chief executive in 2017 — but only from a prescreened slate of candidates. The showdown follows city-wide protests and a year and a half of efforts by Hong Kong’s leaders to sell the Beijing-backed election plan. Here are five things to know about the vote.
1. The Legislature Will Vote This Week
The proposal currently on the table will be put to a vote this Wednesday and Thursday. This is arguably the most critical of five stages in the election overhaul blueprint, laid down by Beijing and in accordance with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution
2. Pro-Democracy Lawmakers Oppose the Package
The package lays out the rules for electing Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 within a framework formulated by Chinese authorities, in which all candidates must be nominated by a 1,200-member committee that is heavily pro-Beijing. After slight tweaks announced in April, the opposition maintains that the system is not democratic enough to allow one of their own candidates to stand.
3. The Plan Is Not Likely to Pass
27 pro-democracy lawmakers — who control a little more than one-third of the city’s legislature –say they will vote against the package, as has one lawmaker who isn’t part of the opposition camp. Read the rest of this entry »
Hong Kong’s electoral reform proposal can at times resemble a complicated math problem.
Real Time China‘s Isabella Steger writes: On Wednesday, the government unveiled an updated package for the 2017 chief executive election following a second round of public consultation. The gist of it? The government says their reform package now makes it easier for people to participate in the election. The opposition says in reality, the vote is still one rigged in favor of pro-Beijing candidates.
The government has repeatedly said that Beijing’s Aug. 31 decision that any candidate running in the election must be pre-screened by a nominating committee cannot be amended. The decision, simply referred to as “831” in Hong Kong, sparked last year’s Occupy protests.
“The government says their reform package now makes it easier for people to participate in the election. The opposition says in reality, the vote is still one rigged in favor of pro-Beijing candidates.”
But the government has hinted that tweaks could be possible within the nomination process. And that’s what the Hong Kong public got in the form of concessions on Wednesday.
Under the current electoral system, a nominating committee of 1,200, heavily stacked in favor of pro-Beijing and pro-business interests, nominates candidates for the chief executive position. A candidate requires one-eighth of votes, or support from 150 members of the committee, to be nominated. Read the rest of this entry »
Sales Increase for Pricey Undergarments as Government Discourages Conspicuous Consumption
Laurie Burkitt and Alyssa Abkowitz report: Call it inconspicuous consumption. Lingerie stores in China are seeing strong sales of $300 bras and other pricey skivvies, defying a broad drop in luxury sales in the vast Chinese market. Italian lingerie maker La Perla—which once struggled to sell $2,000 strapless bustiers and other high-end undergarments in the region—saw sales at its 14 stores in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan jump 42% last year. Last month, La Perla opened a Shanghai men’s boutique, selling $200 silk boxers and $3,000 silk robes.
“I don’t want to overdress. But I don’t mind spending more than 1,000 yuan for a bra.”
— Ms. Zu, who works in pharmaceutical sourcing
Agent Provocateur, a London high-end lingerie company, said sales at the company’s four China boutiques are at least 25% above expectations. An Agent Provocateur saleswoman in a high-end Beijing mall said best sellers include a sheer bra with white-scallop details priced at 1,475 yuan, or about $240, and a 1,940 yuan lacy black bra.
Consumers like Zu Yujing, a 30-year-old from the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, say spending on luxury clothing for the office or leisure is too ostentatious. But Ms. Zu splurges on custom-made pieces at a Beijing-based lingerie shop called Pillowbook, where she spent about 4,000 yuan on her last shopping spree.
“I don’t want to overdress,” said Ms. Zu, who works in pharmaceutical sourcing. “But I don’t mind spending more than 1,000 yuan for a bra.”
Chinese consumers—famous for their appetite for designer bags and gold-plated iPhone cases—are now shying away from flashy logos and displays of wealth as a government austerity campaign shames officials who buy them. Sales of luxury goods, which include glitzy jewelry and couture, were down 1% last year in China, according to consulting firm Bain & Co.
But many Chinese appear to be flaunting their wealth under their clothes. Read the rest of this entry »
Officials in Hong Kong and Beijing fear that the unfettered freedom to discuss such topics in Hong Kong’s classrooms has helped breed a generation of unruly and unpatriotic youths
HONG KONG—Isabella Steger writes: High-school students in this city’s mandatory liberal studies class tackle issues that are strictly taboo in mainland Chinese schools—press freedom, civil disobedience and the rule of law.
“The biggest impact of liberal studies is that it encourages students to be much more aware of current affairs,” said Lo Yat-ko, a 30-year-old liberal studies teacher.
“In Hong Kong, we teach critical thinking, not like in China where they teach by indoctrination and memorizing”
— Ng Shun-wing, Hong Kong Institute of Education
That has become a big problem for some officials in Hong Kong and Beijing, who fear that the unfettered freedom to discuss such topics in Hong Kong’s classrooms has helped breed a generation of unruly and unpatriotic youths, and helped inspire the so-called Occupy pro-democracy protests that shook this semiautonomous Chinese city for 10 weeks late last year.
Excerpt: Lessons in Liberal Studies
In the aftermath of those student-led protests, an education debate is once again brewing in Hong Kong. In November, the city’s Education Bureau launched a three-month review of the city’s school curriculum, the results of which will be announced in July.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his annual policy address last month that the government would change the current high-school curriculum, with an aim to “reinforce students’ interest in and understanding of Chinese history and culture.” Mr. Leung said the government will also subsidize students to participate in exchange programs with schools on the mainland.
His comments come two years after the Hong Kong government, at Beijing’s behest, attempted to introduce mandatory patriotic education in the city’s schools, drawing accusations of indoctrination and sparking widespread demonstrations that forced the government to back down.
The latest curriculum review risks reigniting a new round of protests, but the government’s resolve for an overhaul appears to have deepened. Hong Kong and Beijing officials have grown more outspoken over school subjects, such as liberal studies, that address controversial topics and emphasize critical analysis.
Excerpt 2: Lessons in Liberal Studies
Such topics and teaching methods are off-limits in mainland Chinese schools, which place a more traditional emphasis on rote learning and shun current events that are sensitive to the Communist Party.
Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said last month that Hong Kong youth needed to have their thinking “repaired” as they have been “brainwashed.”
The problems in Hong Kong’s education system “have now become the seeds of bitter melons and poisonous beans,” said Mr. Chen at a seminar held by a think tank in Beijing, adding that some protesters who were “babies during the handover were…waving the British flag.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and has since operated under a separate political system that grants residents far greater freedoms than their mainland counterparts. But some people in the city worry that those freedoms are eroding. Read the rest of this entry »
Hong Kong activists kicked off a long-threatened mass civil disobedience protest Sunday to challenge Beijing over restrictions on voting reforms, escalating the battle for democracy in the former British colony after police arrested dozens of student demonstrators.
HONG KONG – Hong Kong police are investigating after small firebombs were thrown at the home and business of a pro-democracy media magnate in an apparent intimidation attempt.
“The goal is intimidation…a continuation of the attacks against Mr. Lai and Next Media for its editorial position, which is at odds with the anti-democracy forces.”
— Next Media spokesman Mark Simon
Surveillance video showed a car backing up to the gates of Jimmy Lai‘s home early Monday and a masked attacker getting out and throwing what looks to be a Molotov cocktail before driving off.
At about the same time, another incendiary device was thrown from a car at the entrance to his Next Media company. Its publications include the flagship pro-democracy Apple Daily, one of the city’s most popular newspapers.
No one was injured and the small fires were quickly extinguished. The cars used in the attacks were later found burned out and stripped of their license plates, according to local media reports.
Lai is well known as a critic of Beijing and a staunch supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which occupied streets for 11 weeks last year to press their demands for free elections. He was among the thousands of protesters who were tear-gassed by police as the protest movement erupted in September. Read the rest of this entry »
The Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters had planned to have some kind of vote yesterday on how they would go forward. But they didn’t. From the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper:
Occupy Central protesters and observers yesterday backed an 11th-hour decision to scrap a poll on the way forward for the month-old sit-in, saying the move made it easier to enter into more talks with the government.
Protest leaders announced the U-turn hours before the electronic ballot was to start at 7pm and apologised for not having sufficiently discussed with demonstrators the poll’s methodology and objectives. But shelving it did not mean they had shifted their stance or intended to end the occupation, Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang said.
Some protesters had said the poll was redundant. A huge banner that called for delaying the poll was hung from an Admiralty footbridge yesterday morning.
Occupy co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said: “The public may feel there are problems with the movement’s organisation and leadership, and we admit that … I promise that in the future, we will give sufficient notice to and discuss with protesters before making a major formal decision.”
For me, the lesson in this story is that “democracy” is not a self-executing political panacea. Democracy has a value — a high value — as ONE element of a fair and well-ordered society. But democracy can only serve its proper function as a check on the tyranny of the state when it operates within a system of well-defined and transparent laws and institutions. It is not surprising to me that the vote called by the protesters did not happen. There was no framework of law and institutional operation within which it could happen.
The smartest lawyers and statesmen in the rebel colonies worked for many months to draft the Constitution of the United States before it was finally implemented. Doing this created the framework of laws and institutions in which democracy operated as only one dynamic part of a system that was crafted after extremely careful deliberation by some of the wisest men who have ever considered these issues. The Framers of the US Constitution did their work after putting in place a temporary structure — the Articles of Confederation — to ensure a stable environment for long enough to work out the permanent “political operating system” for their country. They did not do their work in the heated stress and passion of an armed rebellion against the Crown. They first made an imperfect compromise in the Articles of Confederation to buy themselves the time they knew it would take to work out a truly well-ordered system. My advice to the protesters: study history.
“For me, the lesson in this story is that “democracy” is not a self-executing political panacea. Democracy has a value — a high value — as ONE element of a fair and well-ordered society.”
The problem, of course, is that there is no time for study. The pro-democracy protesters have been improvising and responding to the largely pro-Beijing government’s actions from the beginning. They are working from a base that is fueled by legitimate passion for liberty and fear of tyranny, but without a well-established leadership operating within a widely-recognized and accepted organizational structure.
“But democracy can only serve its proper function as a check on the tyranny of the state when it operates within a system of well-defined and transparent laws and institutions.”
In any conflict, all things being equal, the side with the more easily achieved strategic goal and the larger number of tactical options will prevail. For better or worse, in this situation, the side with both of these advantages is the pro-establishment side. For the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government, the strategic “victory condition” is maintaining the status quo, and they have a broad range of tactical options along the spectrum of patiently waiting out the protesters on one end to forcefully removing them on the other. I fear the pro-democracy side may not really realize this or, if they do, can think of no tactical response other than “keep doing what we’re doing.” Without regard to the merits of either side’s goals, this makes the pro-democracy side’s strategic and tactical position very weak. Unless they realize this and adjust their strategy and tactics accordingly, the outcome for them does not look good.
“In any conflict, all things being equal, the side with the more easily achieved strategic goal and the larger number of tactical options will prevail. For better or worse, in this situation, the side with both of these advantages is the pro-establishment side.”
This grim picture is playing itself out in a situation where the largest number of the anti-establishment protesters are high school and college students, without strong and experienced leadership that has been tested over time, and without any organizational infrastructure to support the building of strategic or tactical consensus. Unless this situation changes, it looks increasingly unlikely that the pro-democracy movement will put itself into a situation where it can achieve a real “victory.” If their only tool is a “passion for democracy,” they cannot prevail.
For Hong Kong Protesters, Ridicule Proves an Effective Formula
Lusty choruses of the song—in English—rang out in the working-class neighborhood of Mong Kok last week when thugs descended to try to break up the sit-in demonstrations there. The crowds would engulf a hostile interloper and strike up the melody.
It was musical mockery; the equivalent of the medieval pillory designed to publicly embarrass and humiliate. Read the rest of this entry »
HONG KONG – A mob of masked men opposed to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators led an apparently coordinated assault on the protest zone in the heart of the city’s financial district Monday, tearing down barricades and clashing with police.
The chaotic scenes came after police carried out a dawn operation to reopen some key roads blocked by protesters for more than 15 days. Police said they will continue to chip away at the occupied zone to relieve traffic, and warned that anyone who challenges them could be arrested.
“Before the police came, young men wearing masks and dark clothing came to pick fights with people and we heard that some of them had weapons.”
Monday’s confrontations highlighted the growing tension between student-led protesters and authorities — as well as other residents aggravated by the disruptions. The protesters, who had enjoyed widespread support when the movement began, are fighting to keep up momentum as the political crisis entered a third week.
“I don’t know who the young men wearing masks were. We suspect they’re triad members, but it’s hard to say. What other kind of group would organize themselves to come attack us?”
— Kevin Ng, college student
Demonstrators have flooded several thoroughfares in central Hong Kong since Sept. 28 in a civil disobedience movement to oppose restrictions on the first-ever direct election for the semiautonomous Chinese city’s leader, promised by Beijing for 2017.
Authorities have repeatedly urged protesters to retreat from the streets, but student leaders have vowed to keep up the disruptions until the government responds to their demands. Read the rest of this entry »