It’s a long struggle ahead for the people of Hong Kong. But it’s a struggle they are willing to go through, though with unknown and unpredictable consequences.
The territory is aflame again with the demand for democracy. Hong Kongers have been on the warpath for this cause ever since control of the territory was handed over to China by Britain, but the rulers in Beijing have always turned a deaf ear to their demands. But Hong Kong activists are more determined this time and have decided to expand their struggle. The latest trigger has been China’s rejection of their demand for the right to freely choose their next leader in 2017. In a controversial move, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) endorsed a framework to let only two or three candidates run in the 2017 leadership election. All candidates must first obtain majority backing from a nominating committee likely to be stacked with Beijing loyalists. The NPC is China’s final arbiter on the city’s democratic affairs and its decision makes it almost impossible for opposition democrats to get on the ballot.
In protest, pro-democracy activists have vowed to bring the city’s financial hub to a halt. They have also announced a campaign of civil disobedience that will climax with a blockade at some time of the city’s important Central business district.
China has a history of brutally suppressing democratic movements at home. Hong Kong is a territory where the laws are different, where dissent and free expression of opinion are tolerated to some extent due to its special status. But Beijing is unlikely to agree to anything that will bring democracy to the territory. For this reason, political reform has been a constant source of friction between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and the mainland since Britain returned the city to China 17 years ago.
China is already making preparations to face protests. Tension is likely to build up in the coming days. Both sides are likely to get locked in a long struggle with no easy exit. As per the terms of the handover contract with the British, China is expected to guarantee a genuine election for picking the territory’s leader. But it has made clear that it has no intention of doing so, and Beijing’s power is so absolute that it does what it chooses.
On the surface, the NPC’s decision is a breakthrough that endorses the framework for the first direct vote by a Chinese city to choose its leader. However, by tightly controlling nominations for the 2017 leadership poll, Beijing is pushing a Chinese version of fake democracy.
Hong Kongers need to continue this struggle. Even if they don’t meet their objective, it should help stop Beijing from taking away more of their freedoms•