CHINA: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Hong Kong elections a clear win for democracy
, October 9, 2004
In a fiercely contested election in Hong Kong, voters in their tens of thousands streamed to the polls on Sunday, September 12, showing their clear preference for determining their own future, despite the fact that Beijing-backed parties did make some gains.
The pro-democracy parties did not gain the clear control of the Legislative Council as they had hoped, but it was certainly a vote for democracy, whatever the outcome in seats.
Turnout was so heavy that some polling booths ran short of ballot boxes, leaving some people grumbling and others giving up in frustration.
The Democrats are likely to be able to frustrate Tung's legislative agenda, but the opposition had little chance of winning a clear majority, in an electoral system which critics claim is rigged.Nervous
The authorities in Beijing are clearly nervous that things are not working out in Hong Kong as they had hoped, in part due to the selection of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, a failed businessman and poor manager, who lacks popular support.
China has dispatched the People's Liberation Army, China's sole astronaut and Olympic gold medallists to "build patriotism," but Hong Kongers are unimpressed.
Beijing's leadership is deeply suspicious of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, says Martin Lee QC, leader of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong's Legislative Council.
"This is a result of misinformation. What we need is dialogue with the leadership in Beijing, so their misunderstanding can be cleared up. They think the ultimate aim of the democratic movement is independence. This is not true. What Hong Kong people want is better governance," Lee said in a recent interview.
In the Legislative Council election, Lee stood for one of the 30 democratically elected seats - the other 30 are elected by functional groups of various occupational categories. The half selected by special interest groups has an electorate of fewer than 200,000 members, from occupational groups such as business, law and accounting who tend to favour Beijing.
Article 45 of the Basic Law, or mini-constitution, governing Hong Kong, allows the chief executive to be elected from 2007, and the Legislative Council to be democratically elected from 2008.
The standing committee of the National People's Council in Beijing has said that the 2007 elections will not be by direct vote - democratic elections are not required but permitted - that is, 10 years after the return of Hong Kong to mainland China in July 1, 1997.
The Democratic Party is seeking election of both the chief executive and Legislative Council through universal suffrage. Initially, Beijing thought that, in the 10 years since 1997, the pro-Beijing parties would develop and dominate the scene. This has not happened.
Although the Democratic Party is the largest in the Legislative Council, Hong Kong people often favour independents - even if they have a similar view and cooperate with the Democratic Party. The chief executive, if he is elected, must resign from the party that sponsored him when he takes office.
The late Deng Xiaoping, the 100th anniversary of whose birth was celebrated in August, said that the people who rule Hong Kong should love Hong Kong and China, and be patriots.
The democratic movement does not dispute this proposition - they do not love China any less for seeking democratic rule, says Martin Lee.
Beijing has resorted to a number of carrot-and-stick measures in the lead-up to the election, using economic incentives and threats against pro-democracy figures.
Evidence of this can be seen in the posters in Hong Kong's MTR - the underground railways system serving the city - saying "keep dirty hands off our elections," meaning that the Triads may be attempting to influence the election at Beijing's behest.
Three talk-back hosts on Hong Kong's radio resigned in quick succession, reportedly the result of threats against them by Beijing-backed Triad groups.
On the carrot side, Beijing signed the Close Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Hong Kong, giving Hong Kong firms preferential access to the mainland market. Allowing the number of mainland tourists to visit Hong Kong to increase has boosted the tourism industry.
"Hong Kong is full of mainland tourists," says Hong Kong-based business executive and economic analyst, Kathleen Kearney. "After a seven-year slump, the economy is going again," she added.
However, despite the incentives and the sticks, Hong Kong has remained defiant.