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The voice of the people must be heard

HONG KONG (SE): People will not come into the streets and protest in the face of hard times or economic deprivation, but when their personal freedom is threatened they will flood the thoroughfares of cities, blockade government buildings, disrupt traffic and interfere with normal commercial life in order to make their voices heard.
 
So when three large rallies form in one week, culminating on June 16 with an estimated two million people, or over one quarter of the entire population, swelling through the city streets, it is reasonable to conclude that the people have a deep sense that their freedom is being threatened.
 
Hong Kong is a city of demonstrations, as evidenced on almost any day of the week by the occasional banner hung on a footpath railing or small gathering on a street corner, even if just a few people man the post.
 
It is a search for a voice where people have no other effective way to influence the machinations of the administration and no vote that can have any discernible impact on the general policies it is formulating.
 
There are then times when the oppression is so deeply felt across the board that people have rallied in such mass that their voice rings in the ears of the administration to the extent that it must respond, or at least proclaim the promise.
 
In 2014, people occupied the main thoroughfares of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok for 79 consecutive days. Eventually, under pressure, they packed up and went home without their immediate demands being met.
 
The prophets of status quo have since gone to great lengths to demonise those who stuck it out for so long and portray them as a failure—a sign of the profound impact the 79-day blockade has had on the political conversation in the city up to this very day.
 
It also highlighted the points of vulnerability in the administration armoury, especially manifest in the jailing of three mature-aged men who injected much of the inspiration and energy into the movement.
 
The introduction of an extradition bill that would see treaties made with Taiwan and Macau, but most significantly with mainland China, has inspired fear among a people who have witnessed both sellers of displeasing books in mainland eyes and at least one businessperson surreptitiously extradited without any reference to law.
 
The procrastination of the Hong Kong administration and ineffective posturing has revealed both its powerlessness and perhaps its unwillingness to protect its own citizens in such situations. Even assurances of responsible scrutiny by the local courts, which generally are highly regarded, did not wash with the vast swathe of the population, leaving individuals somewhat fearful of what may well be their own destiny.
 
This begs the question of from whence the administration derives its moral authority to govern, as even the role of its own courts would play in this extradition process lacked credence in the wake of the jailing of the Occupy leaders.
 
This at least left a suspicion of official interference, as ultimately it is the secretary for justice, a political appointee, who can decide who is prosecuted and who is not, leaving the separation of the legislature and the judiciary somewhat blurred at the edges.
 
A further question is from whence does Beijing seek to derive its moral authority as the holder of sovereignty over the territory. After the debacle of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese leaders abandoned to some extent their iron grip policy over the people, opting instead for some freedom with the lure of riches through economic development to win hearts and minds.
 
This it has done with some success, but it does not address the threat of financial recession or the day when the riches move so far from reach as to seem unattainable to the many.
 
Hong Kong is repeatedly told that financial and economic matters must be cherished at all costs and anything that threatens even a blip in this process is frowned upon darkly.
 
But among the two million that flowed into the streets were many who see little hope in their future for a decent job after graduation or opportunity of social mobility.
 
While these are not issues that would normally prompt such a mass gathering in the streets or a blockade of the Legislative Council, the threat of the possibility of extradition to face a court in China, in which few would hold trust, and the curtailing of personal freedom, is.
 
While many of those who massed into the streets may not understand the ins and outs of the extradition law, some innate distrust of the proposed system was sufficient to mobilise them.
 
This, coupled with the bullish attitude of the administration of Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor and belligerent refusal to acquiesce to the will of the people, means that this matter is far from settled, as are the many other issues that eat at people’s sense of well-being.
 
The use of violence by the administration to protect its doggedness will not vindicate it either, as ultimately the violence was not unleashed on the demonstrators only, as tear gas wafted into the air conditioning systems of nearby apartment blocks, leaving many homes a choking atmosphere of skin, nasal, ear and eye irritations.
 
In a democracy, legislation derives its authenticity from the will of the people and even though Hong Kong may only be a pretend democracy, the pretence of bending to the people’s will, will be nowhere near adequate to assuage the fears the people hold in their hearts.
 
There will be no rest in this city until the source of the fear is removed and the administration learns art of listening with acute hearing and responding with sensitivity.