Hong Kong elections expected to boost pro-democracy movement

Mon, Sep 10, 2012, 01:00

HONG KONG voters were expected to give a strong vote of confidence to the territory’s pro-democracy movement after legislative elections yesterday. The elections play a major role in determining the eventual shape of the full democracy Beijing has promised the former British colony.

The elections to the 70-seat legislative council came shortly after chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who is seen as pro-Beijing and rumoured to be a member of the Communist Party, abandoned a controversial plan to introduce a new compulsory school curriculum, which critics was said was a bald attempt to brainwash the public with Chinese Communist Party principles.

“Many people have remarked how this election has been a referendum on the new administration, and a chance to say no to Beijing,” said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, speaking after polls had closed.

“Plus, Beijing’s overt interference in Hong Kong’s concerns have given rise to concerns among the middle class,” said Mr Lam.

“Many people have noted Beijing’s interference is becoming more overt and aggressive,” he added.

The elections had a higher degree of public representation than previous polls. Voters were choosing 40 representatives, while 30 others were chosen by business and special-interest groups, which tend to favour Beijing.

For the first time, the public gets to vote for more than half the seats. In previous elections the seats were evenly split, but 10 new seats have been added this time and they include five so-called “super seats” that all 3.5 million registered voters can choose.

Under the terms of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution introduced in Hong Kong as part of the terms of the return of sovereignty in the territory to China in 1997, Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong can elect its own leader in 2017 and all legislators by 2020 at the earliest.

However, no road map has formally been laid out, and legislative council members elected in yesterday’s polls will help shape the arrangements for those future elections.

Dissatisfaction at the way the government deals with China has risen to the highest level in eight years, according to a survey by the non-partisan Hong Kong Transition Project.

“Education has been the No 1 concern. It definitely played a big role in this election,” said project leader Michael DeGolyer, a professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University who has tracked changes in the city since its return to Chinese rule.

The education plan led to huge protests, with 120,000 people taking to the streets on Friday and 100,000 on Saturday, organisers said, outside schools and in front of government headquarters.

Alarmed by the public outcry, the government held frantic consultations with schools, parents and teachers, and opted to replace a putative deadline with a three-year initiation period.

Schools can now decide whether to introduce the plan or not.