Democracy had effectively been muffled even before the first vote was cast. Sunday’s voting for members of the Election Committee to choose Hong Kong’s leader in December has distinctly been remote controlled from mainland China. The objective almost certainly is to ensure that candidates who are loyal to Beijing get elected. The Election Committee will choose 40 of the 90 lawmakers ~ marginally less than 50 per cent ~ in the protectorate’s legislature. Additionally, it will elect the Hong Kong leader in the elections next March. It bears recall that barely four months ago, Hong Kong’s electoral laws were amended to ensure that “patriots” alone ~ those who are loyal towards China and the semi-autonomous territory ~ will rule the city. There has already been a degree of numerical manipulation.
The Election Committee has been expanded to 1500 members from 1200 and the number of direct voters for committee seats has been markedly reduced ~ from about 246,000 to less than 8,000. This is set to guarantee that the vast majority of the Election Committee will be pro-Beijing candidates. The other compulsion has been to ensure that 50 per cent of the lawmakers are aligned with the omnnipotent ruling party ~ the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is still not known whether or not the pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, will seek re-election next March.
Suffice it to register that the changes announced on Sunday are part of a wider crackdown on Hong Kong’s civil society following the mass pro-democracy upheaval that convulsed the city over the past few years. The authorities have tightened control over the city. The sweeping national security law, imposed by CCP, has in point of fact criminalised opposition to the government. Several civil organisations have either disbanded or their leaders have been arrested. Not wholly unrelated is Sunday’s announcement by Hong Kong’s largest opposition trade union ~ the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions ~ that it would disband out of concern over the safety of its members.
The trade union entity will be the latest organisation to disband following the dissolution of a teachers’ union. The changes fly in the face of the promised freedoms that the people of Hong Kong had hoped to maintain for as long as 50 years following Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Over the past 25 years, the government in Beijing has entrenched its authority to an astonishing degree. The nearly 4,900 voters, representing various professions and industries, will vote in the midst of heavy police presence to choose 364 candidates (from among 412) in the Election Committee. The other seats are uncontested or held by those on the strength of their titles. The forthcoming tryst with democracy cannot inspire optimism given the overarching authority of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party.