Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hong Kong politics - Taking it to the streets

TENDING towards political apathy until the late 1980s, Hong Kong people have since fostered a fiesty tradition of taking to the streets to mark certain anniversaries. One of these is June 4th, the date of the 1989 crackdown against demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Another is July 1st, the date in 1997 when China regained sovereignty over the former British colony

New Year’s Day has recently been added to the roster of protest dates on the Hong Kong activism calendar, and on January 1st thousands heeded the call. The Civil Human Rights Front, organisers of the march (pictured), said there were 30,000 participants; Hong Kong police gave a count of 11,100 demonstrators.

A year ago, tens of thousands people marched to demand that the city’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, step down. That was not to be, however, because in this city of 7.2 million, Mr Leung ultimately answers to a committee of 1,200 electors, including many Beijing appointees. This week’s New Year’s Day march was aimed at changing that political reality. 

This year’s event also included an unofficial referendum, designed by one of the city’s leading pollsters, Robert Chung Ting-Yiu, of the University of Hong Kong. Majorities of more than 90% supported appeals to expand the election committee and to allow the public to nominate candidates in the next chief-executive election, scheduled for 2017. By then Hong Kong’s voters are due to be granted universal suffrage, according to a promise made by China in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Yet, China’s recent browbeating—in the form of suggestions that only “patriots” are fit to be candidates, and that all nominees must be screened— has rattled Hong Kong’s body politic. Demonstrators insisted that for universal suffrage to be meaningfully exercised, there must be more than a Hobson’s choice.

“We need to equip ourselves for mass action," said Johnson Yeung, of Civil Human Rights Front. Another participant, Audrey Eu, of the Civic Party, said, "We're foolish for being too obedient."
Political demands ranged from the radical (snubbing the Basic Law and scrapping the election committee) to the more pragmatic (pushing for an element of civil nomination). Plans for bringing more pressure to bear on authorities in China call for more civil disobedience events including an "Occupy" movement (its Chinese-language website is here) to disrupt the city’s financial heart, called Central.

On the night of January 1st in Central a subdued crowd of about 2,000, more inclined to clapping than to screaming slogans, worked on basic civil disobedience tradecraft. They practiced how to cushion their heads against blows and how to form a human chain in order to resist arrest. The crowd was diverse, made up of university students, retirees, bankers and low-income groups. But they were mainly united in the belief that an open popular election is the cure for many of the city’s social ills. Apathy, it seems, has gone out of style. ‘The Economist’

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