Protests and the Future of Democracy in Hong Kong

For those who haven’t followed the uproar in Hong Kong over the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou, funding for which was approved last week, here’s an Al Jazeera English video from a week ago:

The rail question’s tied up with larger constitutional questions for Hong Kong in its relationship with Beijing, namely when and how its promised universal suffrage will come into force. This, even more than the cost of the high-speed rail project – though the project itself sets the record for being the most expensive per kilometre – is driving public anger.

According to Reuters, ‘Beijing has been loathe [sic] to relax its grip over electoral freedoms and only agreed in 2007 to allow a direct vote for Hong Kong’s leader and legislature, starting in 2017.’ Until then, the city’s leader puppet is chosen by a small pro-Beijing committee, and only half its legislature is directly elected: the rest of the city’s legislators are chosen by so-called ‘functional constituencies’, i.e. special interest groups. A quick glance at the numbers shows that these rotten boroughs are overwhelmingly pro-Beijing:

Geog. Constituency Func. Constituency
Pan-Democrats 19 4
Pro-Beijing 10 24
Independents 1 2

A referendum on democratic rights

It is in this political climate that some opposition lawmakers have pulled a risky move to resign en masse from the legislature in order to run for their own seats again, forcing by-elections that they call a de facto referendum on democracy. The administration, of course, cries foul, calling this manœuvre a violation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, just as Donald Tsang earlier this week condemned railway protesters for ‘irresponsible behaviour’ that violated ‘Hong Kong’s core values’ (excuse me? am I related to this tool?).

It bodes badly for Hong Kong that Ambrose Lee, secretary for security, called the protests ‘violent acts’ that ‘violated our stability and law and order’. Need we have the protesters write self-criticisms for counterrevolutionary activity too?

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