When I arrived in Hong Kong a month ago it was already clear that a political crisis was brewing. The HK administration had tabled a new extradition law and opposition to it was growing by the day. Now the issue has come to a boil. On Sunday, a million Hong Kongers braved sweltering heat to demonstrate against the law. The next day, Carrie Lam, the chief executive announced that she was going ahead with it any way and that he legislature would vote on the law this Wednesday. More confrontations are inevitable.
The British left Hong Kong with an incomplete democracy when they handed the territory back to China under the “one country, two systems” agreement. Till today only part of the legislature is elected by the public and the choice of the chief executive is controlled by Beijing. No wonder that the relation of the Hong Kongers to the administration is fraught with tension. Few people mourn the departure of the last chief executive, C. Y. Leung who seemed to be set only on pleasing Beijing. His successor, Carrie Lam, came into office promising to do better but now she has changed course (or been forced to do so). Her new motto is: The public be damned. There is no doubt that her hardline tactics on the extradition bill has lost her the good will of a large part of the Hong Kong population. She is not likely to get that back. Her next few years in office promise to be rough.
The extradition bill is a further blow to the already shaky democracy of Hong Kong. It will allow the extradition of HK residents to the mainland, if they are accused there of serious crime. The expectation is that Beijing will use the law to stifle political opposition. The existence of the law will, in fact, be enough to make critics of Beijing speak more circumspectly. And the way the law is being funneled through the legislature is another insult to democracy. Normal legislative procedures have been abandoned to push it through. The result will be a much hated law pushed by an unpopular and unrepresentative administration on an unwilling population. No wonder that people in Hong Kong are speaking of the end of democracy.
And here are two headlines from today’s South China Morning Post:
Tensions in Hong Kong on rise as city’s leader Carrie Lam gets death threats and more protests loom over extradition bill
Strikes, class boycotts and ‘picnics’: how ordinary people across Hong Kong are mobilising to take action against extradition bill