Jul 02, 2013

    Hong Kong's imperilled democracy

    The New York Times

    WHILE Hong Kong's pro-Beijing elite were celebrating the anniversary of the handover, thousands of people took to the streets to show their frustrations with the government, and its eroding autonomy from the mainland.

    While many Hong Kongers have some degree of pride in being part of the China success story, the territory's relationship with the mainland has become more strained in recent years.

    More than ever, Hong Kongers fear that their personal freedoms and the rule of law are in a precarious state, as a more confident and assertive Beijing hesitates less in interfering with the development of Hong Kong's democracy.

    Tensions between local people and the hordes of mainland visitors flaunting their newfound wealth add to the increasing sense of disillusionment.

    Lots of Hong Kong people, particularly the younger generation, blame mainlanders for taking lucrative jobs in the financial sector and for inflating the local property market through their purchases of second and third homes in Hong Kong.

    During the handover in 1997, the people were promised that the political system would evolve to one of a democratically-elected government.

    That process of democratic development is now imperilled. The sticking point is universal suffrage, or "one person, one vote".

    In the current system, a holdover from colonial times when the British wanted to limit input from the local population, Hong Kong's political leader, known as the chief executive, is selected by a 1,200-member committee of the business and political elite that is rigged in favour of pro-Beijing candidates.

    Only 40 of the 70 members of the Legislative Council are elected by "one person, one vote", the rest are selected by so-called functional constituencies - professional groups that represent industries like banking, law and teaching.

    Mainland leaders have said they would allow a system of universal suffrage for the 2017 chief-executive election and the 2020 Legislative Council vote.

    But since the pro-Beijing Leung Chun Ying became chief executive a year ago, the pro-democracy camp has had one setback after another.

    The pro-democracy camp has urged Mr Leung to begin a public-consultation process on how to carry out the direct election of the chief executive in 2017. But he has refused to do that or much of anything.

    Meanwhile, people from the pro-Beijing camp have been dropping hints that the government should ban certain people from the pro-democracy camp from running for chief executive.

    Some pro-Beijing politicians have proposed measures to control the nomination process for chief-executive candidates, which would make our system about as free as Iran's "democracy".

    Many Hong Kong people have waited for democracy for a generation - and we're running out of patience. Unfortunately, in an underdeveloped democracy, taking to the streets is one of the few ways that the people can be heard.

    The writer is a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and chair of the Democratic Party.