Commentary: Struggles within Hong Kong’s political system the new battle frontier

Commentary: Struggles within Hong Kong’s political system the new battle frontier

Now that the District Council elections are over, the fight for Hong Kong will continue. But its centre of gravity might be in the political system instead of the streets, says Vivienne Chow.

HK elections
Anti-government protesters chant as they celebrate after pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho lost a seat in the district council elections in Tuen Mun district of Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

HONG KONG: On Monday evening (Nov 25) in Hong Kong, just hours after the Hong Kong democrats made global headlines with a landslide victory in the District Council election, thousands gathered in the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui East calling for the unconditional release of protesters remaining at the nearby besieged Polytechnic University.

They occupied the road tainted by police’s tear gas from the previous week, chanting slogans and waving the protest flag that spelt out “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times”.

READ: What the democrats' landslide election victory means for Hong Kong

READ: Commentary: Hong Kong campus siege widens split between moderates, radicals

At another much quieter cordon line around the corner stood a few unmasked police officers dressed in riot gear.

During a casual conversation with these seemingly much friendlier police officers on the prospect of the protests and ongoing chaos, one of them said to me helplessly: “I don’t see how this is going to end.”

I don’t either.

A REFERENDUM ON THE PROTESTS

Despite Hongkongers making history with a record turnout of 71.2 per cent – 2.94 million registered voters – and the pro-democracy camp gaining control of the District Council for the first time, winning 388 out of 452 seats and wiping out the pro-Beijing camp, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, still refused to admit the mistakes she’s made.

READ: Hong Kong leader admits local elections revealed 'unhappiness' with government

This citywide direct election has been regarded as a de facto referendum on the protests that have developed into a movement demanding freedom, democracy and justice.

Hong Kong holds local elections
Voters line up at a polling station during district council local elections in Hong Kong, China November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

On Tuesday, when Lam met the press for the first time after the pro-Beijing camp’s catastrophic defeat, she only claimed that she will “seriously reflect” on the election results, framing the results as people’s desire to “end violence”.

And as for answering the protesters' five demands, including universal suffrage, an independent probe into the police’s accountability for the excessive use of force, and amnesty for those who have been arrested, Lam’s answer was a no, saying that she has already given in by withdrawing the controversial extradition bill that sparked the protests – one of the five demands – and no further concessions will be made.

READ: Commentary: Behind Hong Kong’s extradition bill protests – a looming divide, growing pessimism about the future

Such a statement will not end the movement. In fact, Lam’s statement could be more or less a reflection of the stance of Beijing.

A FAILURE OF COMMUNICATIONS?

Reuters reported that a new crisis command centre has been set up across the border in Shenzhen, which channels messages concerning the situation of Hong Kong directly to top leaders in Beijing.

Such a communications channel bypasses the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong, which, in theory, plays that role since the British handed over to mainland China in 1997 under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.

READ: Commentary: This may be the end of Hong Kong as we know it

But the fatal defeat of the pro-Beijing camp in the District Council election can be interpreted as the failure of the Liaison Office, that it might have been sending inaccurate information to Beijing.

The Reuters report said that top leaders in Beijing were considering replacing the Liaison Office with the crisis command centre.

The central government in Beijing has so far voiced its confidence in Hong Kong chief executive
The central government in Beijing has so far voiced its confidence in Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and the city police to put a lid on the increasingly violent protests. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

This could be a sign demonstrating Beijing’s determination to have a better grasp of Hong Kong affairs.

A BUMPY RIDE, A BRIGHT SPOT

This means the pro-democracy camp will have to be ready for a bumpy ride as Hong Kong prepares for its Legislative Council election in September next year.

The District Council has turned the pro-Beijing camp into the opposition minority, and they will put the pro-democracy camp under scrutiny.

READ: Commentary: A very gloomy outlook for Hong Kong’s economy

The struggles within the political system will be the new battle frontier, and how Hongkongers react will decide the outcome.

The Hong Kong people’s fight has put the city in the spotlight of global diplomacy. The US Congress has passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in order to keep a close eye on the situation of Hong Kong.

READ: Commentary: Is there a way forward in Hong Kong?

Hongkongers have also put up a fight on Sunday at the District Council election. The extraordinarily high turnout rate shows Hong Kong’s great desire for democracy.

Hongkongers have shown they are truly capable of expressing their views through a peaceful and rational election despite the ongoing demonstrations that have descended into violence and chaos caused by both the police and protesters.

Hong Kong holds local elections
Voters queue outside a polling station during district council local elections in Hong Kong, China November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

With nearly 10,000 tear gas canisters fired by the police, countless injuries and deaths, and more than 5,000 arrests of protesters as young as 12 years old, the people of Hong Kong will remember that the results of this election were paid with the high price of the physical and emotional trauma they have endured for the past six months.

And as many frontline protesters are those who are still too young to vote, they will grow and continue to fight for their rights, and they will not cease until their demands are met.

Vivienne Chow is a Hong Kong-based journalist. This commentary first appeared in Lowy Institute’s blog The Interpreter.

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Source: CNA/el(sl)

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