CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Muzzling the people’s cries for democracy

On July 1, as many as 430,000 people marched in Hong Kong in what is being touted as the largest pro-democracy rally in the city since 2004. The turnout was closely monitored by Beijing, the incumbent chief executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, and his administration.

Ten years ago, the first such rally to take place on the anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty took the Chinese leadership by surprise.

It expressed concern that the political situation could spiral out of control and displayed its dissatisfaction with the administration of Tung Chee-hwa for being unable to solve various economic and social issues, as well as not reporting on the problems.

Since that time, hundreds of agents have been sent from Beijing to monitor the political scene in the territory. A lot of time and effort has also gone into building apparatus to secure the support of the people and maintain stability.

The Leung administration is well aware of its unpopularity.

It has suffered as a result of divisions within the establishment that surfaced during what was a bitter chief executive election campaign between Leung and his rival, Henry Tang, last year, and has been tarnished by a series of scandals involving the chief executive himself and several of his key team members.

Not surprisingly, Leung was asked by journalists whether he would resign after the rally on July 1. The same question was asked of Tung when he was chief executive in 2004, when huge rallies on 1 July 2003, 1 January 2004 and July 1 of the same year showed that he had lost popular support.

The pro-Beijing united front, whose function is to manage Communist Party relations with individuals and groups in Hong Kong, was nervous during the run up to this year’s rally.

It changed the time slot for handover celebration activities to the afternoon from their usual morning schedule, breaking a tradition dating back to the actual handover in 1997.

It organised a concert, encouraged shops to launch sales promotions beginning at 2.00pm, to clash with the rally, as well as many other activities in what is being interpreted as an effort to keep people away from the rally.

Those efforts could be judged as a failure, as the rally attracted an impressive turnout, despite heavy downpours and wind gusts brought on by Typhoon Rumbia.

The governments in Beijing and the Hong Kong Special Administration Region now have to contend with the serious challenge being posed by the proposed Occupy Central movement scheduled for July 1 next year.

Some even regarded this year’s rally as a dry run for the big event next year.

Occupy Central plans to block roads in Central, the financial district of Hong Kong, in a demand for universal suffrage.

Hong Kong people are currently angry and frustrated with significant economic problems in the city: the widening gap between rich and poor, lack of upward social mobility for young people and the growing inability of families to afford accommodation.

Their anger has been exacerbated by what they say is collusion between the government and big business, as well as corruption at the top, including within the hitherto much-respected Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Its former head was accused of spending lavishly to entertain mainland officials.

People believe the root of all these problems is the lack of democracy.

They want a chief executive who will put the interest of the people first, instead of pandering to Beijing and the interests of the tycoons, whose support is essential to safeguarding his position.

Arguments like political reforms have to be gradual and democracy has to wait until conditions are ripe, are no longer acceptable to the people. They have clearly stated that they do not want to wait any longer.

The pro-democracy movement demands the democratic election of the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017 and for all members of the legislature to be elected in the same manner in 2020.

Hong Kong people understand that the ultimate decision on democracy in the territory has to be made by the top leaders in Beijing.

They therefore argue that their demand for democracy is patriotic and is an essential ingredient in achieving political stability and the legitimacy of the local government.

They say that if political reforms cannot satisfy the people, future chief executives will have no legitimacy at all and will be in no position to promote the socio-economic reforms needed to satisfy the community.

However, the signs are far from encouraging. The Leung administration continues to promise a consultation on political reform—but only when the time is right. However, people see this as a lack of sincerity, unwillingness to listen and a delaying tactic.

Worse still, this implies that time is running out for serious and meaningful deliberation at a community level that could reach a consensus on political reform in time to call off the Occupy Central action.

Hong Kong people do not want to confront the Chinese authorities. While most desire democracy, many of them have not been willing to make sacrifices for it.

However, the increasing support for the Occupy Central movement indicates that more and more people in the community are now prepared to act and fight for their rights. UCAN


Joseph Cheng Yu-shek

Political Science Department


City University of Hong Kong

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