Hong Kong Faces Crucial Electoral Vote

Today [17 June] the pivotal 2017 Election Reform Bill to select Hong Kong’s chief executive is to be tabled for passage by the territory’s Legislative Council.

On Tuesday, 10 youngsters were arrested for allegedly planning to make bombs and smoke grenades to disrupt the proceedings. The police will ring-fence the Legislative Council building and transport the lawmakers in special vehicles. There are rumors (vigorously denied) that riot police will assemble in holding areas below the massive new building in Admiralty where the Legislative Council meets.

Somehow this high drama, telecast before the Legco vote on Beijing’s formula for universal suffrage, failed to raise panic or alarm across much of the citizenry who went about their daily routines unfazed.

According to officers of the Organized Crime & Triad Bureau, the conspirators had downloaded explosives formulas from the internet, acquired chemicals and Guy Fawkes masks. They also allegedly stored a dozen air rifles. The 21-34 year old plotters networked actively on Facebook and emails. They include a post-secondary student, teaching assistant, construction hand, technician plus unspecified others.

Loss of faith and trust

The alleged conspirators were said to have advocated bombing Legco and the China Liaison Office. Both institutions are seen as unwelcome mainland tools by the city’s growing nativist sentiment. Unlike the United Front bombers of 1967 who targeted children and the general public, the 10 nativists clearly identified their institutional villains.

For two decades Beijing has evaded its promise in the Basic Law for Hong Kong to elect its Chief Executive and Legislature through popular mandate. In 2014 the National People’s Congress Standing Committee [NPCSC] set an electoral formula through pre-selection of CE candidates via a stacked electoral college.

The Selection Committee of Beijing-anointed rubber-stampers would pick two or three Chief Executive candidates. The voting public of 5 million could then choose from that line-up. That is the universal suffrage for Hong Kong. The society feels betrayed. They have lost faith and trust in the national and local governments.

Rise of ‘Nativism’

One phenomenon unanticipated by the National government, the China Liaison Office and pro-Beijing partisans in Hong Kong, has been youthful rejection of the entire status-quo. This demographic with little or no experience of British Hong Kong, feels there is no future ahead and is angry that the government has failed to address local livelihood issues of housing, health, education and facilities for the elderly. They do not care what happens on the mainland. They increasingly identify themselves as Hong Kong citizens, not Chinese.

The antics of radical breakaway democratic factions like People Power which used to be dismissed as silly have become the lightning rod for frustrated youth. Mainland tourists and parallel traders who clean out local supermarket shelves to sell the same good in the mainland are regarded as yet more evidence of the Hong Kong government’s total capitulation. The sheer numbers overwhelm and are an easy target to hate.

While the hotel and retail trades benefit hugely from this traffic, ordinary Hong Kong residents are inconvenienced on public transport and their leisure space.

This youth power squatted through sun and rain on Hong Kong streets through 79 days of ‘Occupy Central’ to make their point about the betrayal of the Basic Law and the fake democracy being offered. It became known as the Umbrella revolution - now a universally recognized symbol. They sidelined the politicians and academics who first mooted the idea.

Last week at an international soccer match between HK and the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, sports fans respectfully remained silent when the Bhutan anthem was played. They booed and jeered as the Chinese national anthem came over the speakers.

June 4 vigil morphs

Only in Hong Kong is the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4 1989 commemorated annually. There has been a trend of mainlanders joining the vigil. That event has become another tragedy consigned to collective amnesia on the mainland. The original vigil organizers in 1989 were calling for democratic development in China and an end to the one-party dictatorship.

This year youth organizations broke away from the traditional June 4 assembly to host their own rally. The focus was on local issues. They had sizable attendance. They did not care whether the mainland would evolve to democracy. They wanted the Hong Kong government to solve long neglected matters of their concern – the principal problem being unaffordable housing.

The July 1 handover public protest was triggered by the ill-conceived attempt to pass the Article 23 Security Legislation in 2003 – which was hastily aborted when more than 500,000 citizens took to the streets. Both the June 4 and July 1 marches are not led by political parties. They continue to be organized by a loose coalition of civic bodies with spontaneous public participation.

Legco seen as irrelevant

The pan-Democrats who have exhausted their political capital on the single-issue “true-democracy” drum have neglected to lead on livelihood issues. The largest political party in Legco, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), waits for instructions from Beijing on everything. So the Legislative Council of Hong Kong has collectively failed society since 1997.

Whether the 2017 Chief Executive Election Reform Bill is passed or dumped is almost irrelevant. No one is minding the store and the youth reject the entire bunch of time-wasters. Perhaps a new leadership focused on local issues will emerge, to change the dynamics of governance. And they really don’t much care for what Beijing says.