Chris Yeung: Hot in the city

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp

Hong Kong’s political summer is set to be its hottest in a decade.

Hong Kong is bracing for a long, hot summer in every sense. The past few weeks saw the Observatory’s red “very hot” warning on most of the time. On the political front,  pundits have warned of rising political heat in the wake of the July 1 march and the  curtain-raiser sit-in of the Occupy Central campaign held at Chater Road at the end  of the annual rally. An Occupy Central organiser, Chinese University professor Chan  Kin-man, said civil disobedience action could be kick-started in August. The  pro-democracy flagship Democratic Party, which has been dubbed as the dove in the pan-democratic family, has hardened its stance after the July 1 uproar. They said they may hold their own blockade by August.

The political showdown over universal suffrage looks set to happen earlier than expected following the public outcry for “true universal suffrage, no political  screening” and the ventilation of grievances over the Leung Chun-ying  administration at the July 1 procession. Organisers said 510,000 people took part. Police put the crowd at 98,600 at its peak. Independent academics’ estimates ranged between 120,000 to 170,000. Nevertheless, few dispute the fact last week’s march is one of the biggest demonstrations of public discontent towards the government since the historic July 1 march in 2003.

Against the backdrop of inherent contradictions in the “one country, two systems” and flaws in the city’s political system, a string of controversies in the last few weeks has inflamed the political fire in the city and mainland-Hong Kong relations.

White hot
In early June, the publication of a “White Paper” by the State Council has stoked fears about Beijing’s attempt to renege on its promise of giving a “high degree of autonomy” to the Special Administration Region to run the former British colony. Although both Beijing and Hong Kong government officials have insisted China’s  basic policies towards the city remain unchanged, many people are unconvinced.  hey fear Beijing’s move to elaborate on the principle of “one country”, among other  important policies, in the white paper, would pose a threat to the preservation of the city’s systems and lifestyles.

Over 90 percent of voters have picked one of the three selected electoral models that featured public nomination.

The “White Paper” factor emerged as catalyst for people to turn out en masse to cast their votes in a mock referendum held by the Occupy Central activists last month. An unprecedented hacking against the computing system adopted by the University of Hong Kong pollster for the referendum in lead-up to the voting on June 20,  presumably was meant to deter voting. It seems to have done the opposite by spurring more people to cast their votes. More than 790,000 people, higher than all  earlier forecasts, voted on the two questions on the ballot paper. Over 90 percent of voters have picked one of the three selected electoral models that featured public nomination. Less than 10 percent abstained. A similar 90 percentage of people said legislators should veto the government reform blueprint if it does not meet international standards on universal suffrage.

in terms of its turnout and results, gave a shot in the arm of the civil disobedience movement and, also importantly, to the July 1 rally. As if the White Paper has not done enough damage to people’s mood, the ugly bulldozing of a research fund for the northeastern New Territories new-towns plan at the legislature on June 27 has poured oil on the fire.

2003 redux?
The political ramifications of the July 1 uproar look to be profound and enormous. It
may not necessarily precipitate a political crisis similar to the one erupted in the aftermath of the 2003 march. The 500,000-strong rally in 2003 led to the shelving of  an anti-subversion bill, known as Article 23, and  he resignation of three principal officials, including former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. Two years later, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa also stood down.

That the pre-Occupy Central action spearheaded by the Federation of Hong Kong Students in the early hours of July 2 has ended without bloodshed and ugly clashes between protesters and police has emboldened the pan-democrats for more action to keep the momentum going.

It is widely expected that the government will complete a report on the five-month long consultation on universal suffrage for 2017 and the Legislative Council election for 2016 this month and submit it to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. The NPC standing body is likely to discuss the report at a regular meeting in August.

Pan-democrats said they might launch Occupy Central protest action in August if the parameters set out by the Standing Committee for the 2017 go against international standards on universal suffrage. Some said they might even do so in July if the government report ignores their demand for a greater say in choosing candidates for the universal suffrage vote.

No Mr Nice Guy

Both Beijing and the Leung administration are bent on playing hardball with the democrats.

Immediate comments made by the central government’s Liaison Office Director Zhang Xiaoming and Chief Executive Leung Chunying on the July 1 rally gave no hint that Beijing is willing to soften its stance to help secure support from moderate democrats such as the Democratic Party in the legislature.

And if anything, the tough rhetoric of Leung at the Legco question-and-answer session held on July 3 shows both Beijing and the Leung administration are bent on playing hardball with the democrats.

For the first time, five leaders of the July 1, including the driver of a vehicle that led the procession, were arrested for several charges including walking too slowly. The Junior Police Officers’ Association, representing front-line officers, issued a strongly-worded statement on July 6, condemning some protesters as trouble-makers. In an unusual move, Hong Kong Customs and Excise Staff General Association, threw their weight behind the police union. A coalition of pro-government, pro-Beijing groups launched a campaign to solicit over 800,000 signatures against Occupy Central, aiming to outnumber people who joined the mock referendum.

Inside Legco, the relationship between the government and the pan-democratic opposition is nearing a breakdown. Outside the legislature, the rivalry between the government and the loyalist force against the pan-democrats and their supporters is intensifying. Put together, the sharp worsening of the political tensions in the city and between the SAR and the central government has dimmed the prospect of a compromise on the 2017 universal suffrage arrangements. It has also cast a long shadow over the capability of Leung and his team to govern the city in the next three years before their current term expires.