By Chris Yeung —
Last weekend’s democrats’ primaries in Hong Kong are unique in many aspects. But there is one thing the same in any free election. Every vote cast during the two days of primaries represents the free will of people.
By coming out and making their choices, more than 610,000 people showed their defiance of Beijing’s enactment of the national security law and its failure to honour the promises of autonomy and freedom under the policy of “one country, two systems.”
This is despite a well-timed warning given by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Minister Erick Tsang Kwok-wai three days before the primaries were held. He said the primaries might violate the mainland-formulated national security law.
Asked about the primaries at a press conference on a set of tough social-distancing measures amid worsened Covid-19 crisis on Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said they have received complaints that the primaries might have breached the new law.
She cited Article 22 of the law, which says it is wrong to seriously interfere, disrupt or undermine the performance of duties and functions by the central or local governments. Mrs Lam points to another article that prohibits acts of rigging of elections.
Instead of scaring people away from the 240-odd voting stations, which include a decades-old double decker bus, Tsang’s warning has prompted more people to come out to say no to the national security law and, also importantly, the central and Hong Kong governments.
Now that any mass demonstrations and rallies are banned on Police’s convenient reasoning based on the Covid-19 crisis, people seized the opportunity of voting, be it an unofficial primary, to express their anger towards Beijing and the Carrie Lam administration pent up since June last year.
Like the massive turnout of pro-democracy voters in the District Council election in November, the primaries also marked another attempt by the people to reaffirm their “five demands” during the social movement, which include an independent probe of the social movement and full universal suffrage.
Although their chantings of the slogan “Five demands, not not less” were stonewalled, they have not given up the fight for what they deem to be legitimate and reasonable demands that any government must not ignore.
If Beijing and Mrs Lam are still doubtful about the message of the 610,000-plus turnout figure, results of the primaries would have sent an unambiguous warning to them of the intensity of the mood of defiance prevalent across different segments of the society.
Initial results announced on Monday night show localists and radicals have outshone the Democratic Party, once the flagship of the pro-democracy camp, and the Civic Party. Among the “kings” and “queens” of votes include Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Lester Shum, co-founders of the now-dissolved Demosito, and Gwyneth Ho Kwan-lam, a former journalist with The Stand News, a Chinese online news platform.
Their rise to stardom in the pan-democratic camp speaks of the sea change in the city’s political landscape since the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
Although the 79-day-long occupation aimed to press Beijing to offer a more democratic blueprint for electing the chief executive and all legislators had failed, it marked the emergence of a new generation of democracy fighters including Joshua Wong and Lester Shum. The past 12 months of social unrest saw the rise of another batch of young faces including Gwyneth Ho.
While posing a challenge to the traditional pan-democrats, the localists and radicals look certain to bring about more shock and uncertainty in the political scene of the SAR if, a big if, they succeed in the September 6 election.
This is simply because the list of crimes laid down in the national security law is broad enough to make it easy for returning officers of the upcoming election to pick one enough to justify blocking the localists and radicals from joining the contest.
Be that as it may, it would not be possible for the Government to disqualify anyone from the pan-democratic camp to run for the election if Beijing does not want Hong Kong to join the ranks of a Third Word city.
Judging from the November district polls and the weekend primaries, the goal of the democrats scooping 35 or above seats in Legco is no longer a pipe dream.
Delighted with the turnout, Benny Tai, one of the Occupy Trio and architect of the primaries, said on Monday Beijing should rethink its way of governing Hong Kong in the wake of the election primaries.
Tai is no doubt one of the most hated, perhaps wanted, persons on Beijing’s list. But those are words Beijing ignores at their peril.