HONG KONG - Every election since this
former British colony was handed over to Chinese
rule in 1997 has been about keeping the central
government of China at arm's length. But until the
city's just-ended Legislative Council polls, this
crucial issue was never talked about.
in every election, Hong Kong people have uncannily
and successfully walked the tightrope by giving
pro-Beijing parties the largest share of popularly
elected Legislative Council seats, while ensuring
that the pro-democracy groups maintain veto
How this has been achieved is
unfathomable. No political scientist has dared to
delve into this area. It is common knowledge,
however, that many families consciously divvy up
between the two major
This carefully built-up mechanism
to cope with the overwhelming mainland presence
seemingly collapsed after the Democratic Party,
flagship of the pro-democracy camp, agreed to
government-initiated changes to the electoral
system in 2010.
This time, under ferocious
attacks from its own ranks and exploiting several
unpleasant incidents involving mainland visitors,
the Democratic Party made "mainlandization" its
one and only issue - without saying anything
The Democrats also threw their
children to the barricades. For almost two weeks
thousands of students besieged the government's
headquarters at Tamar, in Admiralty, to demand
withdrawal of a plan to introduce "national
education" to the school curriculum.
Supposedly organized by students
themselves, the conduct, logistics and control of
the campaign bore the hallmarks of the
pro-democracy camp's core organization, the Hong
Kong Professional Teachers' Union. The PTU has
been at the core of the party from its inception.
Adults held centre stage at the student
encampment, except for a couple of hours during
the early evenings when media presence was heavy.
The campaign hogged the front pages and the TV
screens for almost two weeks.
other issue to pose a challenge to the students'
campaign was Shenzhen's unilateral plan to give
its 4.1 million non-permanent residents
multiple-entry visas to Hong Kong. Further proof
of "mainlandization" - if any were needed.
As opposition to both measures mounted,
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying kept backing off
... and backing off ... until both the plan to
implement national education in primary and
secondary schools and the one to allow
non-permanent Shenzhen residents to travel freely
to Hong Kong were shelved. For the time being, at
Then it was time for the people to
decide. On Sunday, 1.83 million voters cast their
ballots to choose their representatives in this
city’s legislature. This voter turnout was the
highest since the 1997 handover, though the
turnout rate, some 53%, was slightly lower than
the 56% in 2004 (because the total number of
eligible voters was smaller eight years ago).
They returned a stunner. The "royalist"
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong
Kong (DAB), the flagship of the pro-Beijing or
pro-establishment camp, won three more directly
elected seats in geographical constituencies for a
total of 13, making it the largest party in the
Legislative Council. Together with the DAB's
allies, the pro-Beijing camp now has 43 votes in
the legislature, out of the total 70. (Half the
votes in the legislature, 35, come from functional
constituencies, which are loaded in favor of the
central government in Beijing.)
Democratic Party, which previously had five
representatives, was reduced to three. Academics
and analysts were unanimous that its supporters
were punishing the party for its support of the
political reforms two years ago.
reforms, including the creation of five
"super-seats", for which people could vote across
geographical constituencies, have mainly benefited
the Civic Party, which won six seats. It is now
poised to seize leadership of the whole
Retired trade unionist
Wong Wai-hung, who was the key campaigner for
Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan,
dismisses all talk about divisions within the
pro-democracy camp as "a load of rubbish".
"Few people seem to appreciate that the
government created five new seats for one single
constituency. This constituency covers the entire
territory of Hong Kong. It is not just a
super-constituency. It is a test of the whole Hong
Kong population's feelings towards China.
"What is the result? Over 53% of
registered voters took part. The Democratic Party
and the Association for Democracy and People's
Livelihood won three [of the five super-seats].
The DAB and the FTU [Federation of Trade Unions]
each got one seat.
"There is only one way
to read this result. Hong Kong people have sent a
clear message to Beijing that they don't want the
Communists to be running Hong Kong. Hong Kong
people have voted for a democratic system, not a
Still, the new
alignment in the chamber means there will be
strong support for Chief Executive Leung but the
pro-democracy camp retains its one-third veto
power over constitutional changes.
Democratic Party support also sheared away
to strengthen the radical element in the
Legislative Council. Previously there were only
the screaming, banana-throwing old-style Marxist
"Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, ultra-right "Mad Dog"
Wong Yuk-man, and aging noise-maker Albert Chan
Wai-yip. Now they have two younger additions,
Raymond Chan Chi-yuen from New Territories East
and Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the Neo Democrats.
There are concerns, particularly in the
administration, that politics in Hong Kong will go
the way of Taiwan, with fisticuffs and more flying
fruit from the radicals rather than serious
deliberation of legislations and measures to look
after the poor and the elderly.
sources say theatrics should not be allowed to
obscure the fact that Hong Kong people have sent a
clear message that "mainlandization" is a
non-issue. A former legislator close to the chief
executive told Asia Times Online: "This
national-education issue was in every newspaper
and TV newscast around the clock every day for
over two weeks. In spite of that, the DAB won more
seats. How could this have happened if people were
worked up over the issue?"
legislator added: "The election results show that
Hong Kong voters ... Hong Kong people ... are more
mature than some sections of the media are
prepared to concede. These sections of the media
are themselves involved in politics and want to
see everything going their way.
to believe in the innate wisdom of Hong Kong
people. They know what this is all about and they
don't want vested interests to decide for them."
Augustine Tan is a Hong
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