‘Slap on the cheek’: ball in Beijing’s court after HK’s decisive vote

26-Nov-2019 Intellasia | TheGuardian | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The unprecedented landslide victory of the pro-democracy camp in the Hong Kong district council election was a “slap on the cheek” for the city’s government but the violent protests that have roiled the city for nearly six months will not stop if authorities continue to ignore citizens’ political demands, analysts have said.

In an effective proxy referendum on the city’s pro-democracy movement, nearly 3 million people voted, representing more than 71 percent of the electorate and nearly half of Hong Kong’s population.

Protesters had agreed on social media to pause their actions, creating the first teargas-free weekend since mid-August, to record the largest democratic participation that Hong Kong has ever seen, both in absolute numbers and in turnout rates.

Pro-democracy politicians took control of nearly all of the city’s 18 district councils in what analysts said was a unanimous vote of no confidence in the government.

Joseph Cheng, retired political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong, said Hong Kong people had seized the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction in the government and wanted to put pressure on the government to respond to their political demands.

“They have not given up on their support for the pro-democracy camp and the protesters,” Cheng said. “This is a slap on the cheek for Carrie Lam’s administration who insisted that the silent majority was supporting the government.”

Cheng warned that if the government failed to respond, protests would not die down. “To simply suppress will not return society to normality. Carrie Lam does not have the policy to allow us to return to normality,” he said.

Cheng said the large numbers of arrests after the intense, violent conflicts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Polytechnic University in recent weeks had dented the increasingly radical anti-government movement but protests would continue if the government failed to address political demands.

“The ball is in the government’s court,” he said. “But the government has this attitude that I can’t satisfy your demands and I can’t accept pressure from you. I think Beijing will continue to adopt a hardline stance and will not make concessionsthey know that ultimately, Hong Kong people want democracy and they just won’t give it.”

Victoria Hui, associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame in the United States, said she hoped that Beijing would listen to “the loud and clear voices of Hong Kong people” but given that it has not responded to their political demands before, she was not optimistic.

“They may even take the opposite lesson that they have to rein in the district councils more by changing the rules of the games next time. If they do, Hong Kong will only become even more ungovernable than now,” she said.

“Hong Kong people would opt for the ballots any time; but if denied that, they will risk confronting the police’s bullets,” she said. “Protests will continue unless their demands are met… if they are not heeded, there will be more troubles.”

Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer on electoral politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, also noted that if the government continued to refuse to seek political resolution to solve the crisis, there would be a fresh round of public anger and confrontation. He said the peaceful state of the past weekend was “fragile” and temporary.

“My concern is that they will ignore the public opinion and this will spark anger and increase the confrontational sentiments,” Choy said.

Kenneth Chan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the victory of the pro-democracy movement could be seen as a window of opportunity to find a way out of the political impasse and “may as well be a turning point if [the Beijing and Hong Kong governments] gracefully accept the verdict of the people”.

But he said the government could also “ignore the political meanings of the results altogether” and “that will certainly provoke strong reactions which lead to a new round of street battles between the police and the protesters”.

“In any case, the first response from Carrie Lam is going to determine where Hong Kong is turning to, or still stuck in a gridlock and even new rounds of street level confrontation,” he said.

Cheng said the landslide victory would help lay the foundation for the 2020 legislative council elections, because the pro-democracy camp will have more resources for political campaigns after grabbing district election seats.

Johnny Lau, a commentator on Chinese politics, said Beijing may make strategic adjustments to minimise sparking more negative public reactions and would continue to blame foreign meddling in local politics. But as it made clear in its Hong Kong policies announced in the Communist party’s Fourth Plenum, it would tighten up its governance of Hong Kong through stepped-up control of its government and the police.

It has also pledged to empower security agencies to enforce Chinese sovereignty in the city, and to intensify patriotic education, especially among young people and school children. It may also limit the powers of the local district councils now that they are dominated by democrats, Lau said.



Category: Hong Kong

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