Academic journal article China Perspectives

Challenge to the Pro-Democracy Movement in Hong Kong: Political Reforms, Internal Splits and the Legitimacy Deficit of the Government

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Challenge to the Pro-Democracy Movement in Hong Kong: Political Reforms, Internal Splits and the Legitimacy Deficit of the Government

Article excerpt

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government released the document "Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2012" (henceforward re- ferred to as the "Political Reform Proposals") in November 2009. It did not, as demanded by the territory's pro-democracy movement, provide a con- crete timetable and roadmap for the election by universal suffrage of the Chief Executive in 2017 and of all seats in the Legislative Council in 2020. This was very disappointing from the movement's perspective.

The contents of the Political Reform Proposals were nevertheless not at all surprising. Rather, the divisions within the pro-democracy movement overall suggest that a permanent split within the movement has become inevitable.(1) Further, in the eyes of Hong Kong people, the Chinese leader- ship and the HKSAR government are not interested in the promotion of genuine democracy, and its implementation has now become uncertain.

A political movement that has been in opposition since its birth in the 1980s and that has no prospect of securing political power has inevitably become di- vided in strategy and tactics, with one segment acting in moderation and pur- suing negotiations with the authorities, and another segment opting for radi- calism. This split reflects increasing polarisation in Hong Kong society as well, as the majority becomes more and more apathetic and a significant minority demonstrates rising frustration and anger, not only over the stagnation in the democratisation process, but also over the widening gap between rich and poor.

This article intends to examine the challenges facing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong today, as well as the general political and social situation in the territory. It argues that the deterioration and divisions within the pro-democracy movement may not be political gains for the pro-Beijing united front, as political and social polarisation poses serious problems for effective governance as well. An administration threatened by legitimacy deficit will encounter increasing difficulty in its provision of economic development and social services, thus forcing itself into a vicious circle as unsatisfactory performance further worsens its legitimacy deficit.

The progress or lack of progress in electoral reforms

The attempt to introduce Article 23 legislation (2) and the difficult eco- nomic situation caused by the Severe and Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic prompted more than half a million people to take to the streets in protests demanding democracy.(3) In response, the HKSAR gov- ernment established the Constitutional Development Task Force in January 2004. It also decided to initiate the mechanism for amending the electoral methods for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council in accordance with the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) inter- pretation of April 2004, in an attempt to strengthen the democratic ele- ments of the Chief Executive election in 2007 and the Legislative Council elections in 2008.

The HKSAR government in October 2005 announced a package of pro- posals to reform the electoral systems starting in 2007/2008. The package suggested including all District Council members in the Election Commit- tee for the election of the Chief Executive,(4)and expanding the Legislative Council from 60 to 70 members, with one additional seat for each of the five geographical constituencies, and another five to be elected from among the District Council members. Later in November 2005, the Chief Executive also initiated discussions on the models, roadmap, and timetable for implementing universal suffrage through the appointed Commission on Strategic Development.

In the following month, pro-democracy legislators vetoed the electoral reform package. They could not accept that both the central government and the HKSAR government had refused to provide a concrete roadmap and timetable for the implementation of universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive and the entire legislature. …

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