Hong Kong's Tortuous Democratization: A Comparative Analysis

By Ming Sing | Go to book overview

5

Growing vibrancy of society-led democratic reform

Polarization, compromise and decisions over Hong Kong’s democratization (late 1986-90)

Political context and the two research problems

After the formation of the democratic alliance and capitalist alliance in late 1986 came a phase of emerging political conflict and polarization between the democratic alliance, the capitalist alliance, and China. During this period, the drafting of Hong Kong’s post-1997 constitution, i.e., the Basic Law, continued. In addition, the British and Hong Kong Governments were considering whether some seats in the legislature should be directly elected in 1988. The contending forces engaged in serious political conflict when they tried to shape the post-handover constitution. Indeed, constitution making has been in many countries the major arena of political struggle during democratic transition (Bonime-Blanc, 1987). It reveals the stands of different forces on democratization, illuminates the major social and political cleavages, and reflects the relative power and strategies of contesting forces.

China had the contradictory aims of, on the one hand, relying upon Hong Kong’s pragmatic benefits and luring Taiwan into reunification, and on the other, of thwarting demands for democratization. This chapter will show how the democracy movement, led by the democratic alliance, increased its mobilization strength and thus bargaining power between 1986 and 1989. The movement finally achieved some concessions from the Chinese Government on Hong Kong’s democratization. During the same period, the British Government, in the face of mounting pressures from the Chinese Government’, toned down its top-down efforts to democratize Hong Kong. The contribution of the society-led or bottom-up democratic movement shepherded by the democratic alliance thus became more prominent. That said, the minor scale of those concessions is explained by the absence of strong, unified, and sustained social support in Hong Kong. In particular, the stiff resistance to democracy by the organized capitalists, the fragile public support for the same cause, and the fragmented middle class attitude towards a more rapid democratization throughout most of the 1986 and 1989 period will be discussed to highlight the absence of societal support.

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