(Image Credits: China Current Chinese)
August 13, 2014 was a crisscross of significant events: democracy fighters in the two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) in South China bitterly mourned each of their Chief Executive elections. The thick dark cloud above Hong Kong and Macao resembled Beijing’s fog and, similarly, could not be dispersed.
The tenth meeting of the twelfth National People’s Congress passed a ruling about the issue of universal suffrage in the Chief Executive elections in the two SAR, Hong Kong and Macao, as well as the process for the 2016 Legislative Councils: “In accordance with democratic procedures a Nominating Committee will designate two or three candidates for the Chief Executive position. Every candidate must receive the support of over half of the Nominating Committee.” Hong Kong’s Pan-democracy camp believes that the high requirements for nomination go against all democratic spirit. This is a serious regression compared to the 2012 elections when the support of only one out of the eight members of the Nominating Committee was necessary.
In Macao, a short flight away from Hong Kong, the six-hundred thousand residents watched on TV the only candidate approved by the Nominating Committee being elected. On that day Fernando Chui San On was elected with the “highest score” of 380 votes to become Macao’s fourth Chief Executive. However, a recent referendum reveals that 89% of the 9000 participating Macao residents have no confidence in the Chief Executive that the 400 legal delegates elected.
Some democrats believe that if Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passed this political reform, it is indirectly recognizing that the “filtered” universal suffrage is the true universal suffrage; any compromise would be equivalent to betraying the universal values of democracy. Otherwise, it would go against popular opinion and elections; and Hong Kong will soon be in a situation similar to Macao. Therefore it should return to the 2012 election process at any cost, reject the political reform and replace the one-step “true universal suffrage” by the “Occupy Central” movement.
Whether or not the political reform is accepted, it is the key to Hong Kong’s current political deadlock. Are they ready to pay the price of “Occupy Central”, and for the political reforms to go nowhere, and still not let a filtered election go through? Or is it that they are taking a roundabout road, they are admitting to a step-by-step reform ushering universal suffrage free of filtering as the final outcome, and they would let the Legislative Council hold the Chief Executive elections by 2017?
In fact, the “Occupy Central” idea is a result of the split between these two completely incompatible political clans. When societal problems emerged over ten years ago, Hong Kong pointed the finger at the incompleteness of democracy and requested universal suffrage elections that would meet international standards. Faced with the 2012 Chief Executive elections the Radical party took the “five district referendum” approach, which means that each member of Hong Kong’s five Legislative Councils resigned and then the by-election triggered a de-facto referendum which put pressure on the central government. This radical solution led to much controversy with little effect; the mildly improved negotiations might have worked. For the first time the Democrats entered the negotiations in the liaison Office; it had a positive outcome for them as their number of directed elected seats in the Legislative council increased immediately. However in 2012, in the final elections, due to the vote allocation they won the vote yet lost seats in the Council. The weakened Democrats barely hold on to the veto power on one-third of the Legislative Council seats.
To this day between the Radicals who have found no compromise on a reform of all stages of the election process and the Moderates who cherish every “negotiation” opportunity and strategic “improvements,” all means of contestation have been tried out, including demonstrations, protests, hunger strikes, five-district referendum, negotiations. It remains impossible to force the central government to honour its promise to hold general elections without prior screening of candidates. Since the Democrat party entered the negotiations they have been labelled “traitors to Hong Kong”, and they encountered a serious internal split. Every political party that could unite the whole territory have now lost the power to speed up the democratic process, the moderate middle forces are becoming weaker and the public opinion is becoming polarised. In 2004 Chan Kin-Man wrote these words in an article for the Ming Pao Daily that would become reality: “Hong Kong already has the conditions necessary for the establishment of democracy… If it does not happen, there would be a political lag; the political system would not be able to respond to the political demands of society. Hong Kong is a diverse and complex community with a vibrant civil society and strongly critical media; and the party politics, internal and external to the Council, make governance an increasingly difficult exercise. Under these circumstances we must establish democracy; only then we will be able to control the political situation. If we fail to establish democratic institutions the people might turn to cynical indifference or they would easily turn to populism. Each side uses mass movements and emotions to support their political line. Society would become even more unstable.”
For most people in Hong Kong it is already the case. Press freedom continues to decline, clashes with the police continue to escalate, the legal environment is threatened, even Hong Kong’s position as a financial centre is threatened; Hong Kong’s political system cannot be effectively resolved, it cannot respond to the complex political demands of the society. Society is increasingly divided, increasingly unstable.
On the surface “Occupy Central” is the only thing in Hong Kong since 2010 that brighten the eyes of listeners. After the shock it has become an innovative form of protest that can be implemented. In a context of polarisation of society and divides within the Pan-democrat camp, it has also “forced everyone to reach a consensus. The series of events done by “Occupy Central” have highlighted unprecedented cohesion and solidarity in Hong Kong.
In fact, after years of struggle on the road towards universal suffrage, after a “National Forum” of nearly ten thousand people designed the implementation of universal suffrage and after a referendum involving eight-hundred thousand citizens, has Hong Kong actually deliberated its way out of the old ideological backbone of society? As Benny Tai said himself: “Occupy Central is not about occupying Central.” “Occupy Central” is about creating a space for dialogue for the whole of this increasingly divided society; the debate specifics are not as important as finding a way to implement democracy for every citizen after struggling for general elections, as well as how to resolve the governance crisis caused by the lack of real universal suffrage.
As strategies to force the central government to make concessions already failed, “Occupy Central” cannot effectively prevent the continuing divisions in society. And when the whole society is arguing about issues such as “universal suffrage” or “Occupy Central”, governance crises even greater than the general elections have emerged. In that sense, “Occupy Central” is not a long-awaited end in itself but it is a starting point in Hong Kong’s history.
This article is originally written by Zewei PAN in Chinese. He was a news assistant at China Current Chinese, Hong Kong division. The initial article’s link is here.