By Rahul Maganti:
At a time when student led protests are brewing across different parts of India, be it Jadavpur University students fighting against gender discrimination and state oppression on democratic protests, or the Himachal Pradesh University students fighting against the 2000% hike in fee and for restoration of campus elections, the winds of revolution are sweeping different parts of the world. Not far away from here, students in Hong Kong are fighting for Universal Adult Suffrage for this special administrative region of China. Thousands of them are participating in a peaceful exercise through boycotting classes and instead gathering on a university campus wearing yellow ribbons and waving placards.
The slogans which these young students are carrying have been radical and revolutionary. Posters and banners have been posted with slogans such as, “When dictatorship becomes a fact, revolution becomes a duty” and “I want my voice to be heard. We want real democracy. Genuine universal suffrage for Hong Kong.” This becomes all the more important when the Chinese Govt., which calls itself a Communist Govt., has very often indulged in state oppression of democratic protests since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, which was the most brutal of all. Many political commentators see a comparison between the two, as both have hadÂ massive student participation, and have been democratic and peaceful. It needs to be seen how the Chinese Govt. tackles this issue which has failed to address the genuine rights of its fellow province.
Background: In 1997, the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, or simply Hong Kong Basic Law, which has its basis in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, came into effect when the former colony of the British Empire was handed over to People’s Republic of China as a Special Administrative Region. This law was adopted in 1990 itself by the National People’s Congress of China, but had to undergo a lot of administrative hassles before it was enforced. The law upholds the principle, “One Country, two systems.”
Amongst the principles and clauses of this law, the Hong Kong Basic Law also states that its political structure, consisting of the election of Chief Executive and members of legislature, is to be ultimately decided by means of universal suffrage. However, there have been controversies regarding the interpretation of this political structure and the people of Hong Kong were denied the Universal Suffrage in 2007 and 2008 by a standing committee of the PRC.
Where it started: In June 2014, public anger over a recently published Chinese “white paper” declaring Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the territory, released amid a campaign by pro-democracy activists for universal suffrage, drew a larger than usual turnout. Pro-democracy Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the territory, released days after more than 100,000 demonstrators gathered in the city calling for more rights.
The 14,500-word document, which stresses that Hong Kong does not have “full autonomy” and comes under Beijing’s oversight, was released amid fierce debate between residents of the former British colony over impending electoral reform and the nature of the “one country, two systems” concept. Published by the State Council Information Office, the unprecedented white paper states that “many wrong views are currently rife in Hong Kong” with regard to the “one country, two systems” principle that governs the territory’s relationship with Beijing. Some residents are “confused or lopsided in their understanding” of the principle, it adds. “The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power,” said the paper. “It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership.”
Public outrage and subsequent protests: “When Beijing’s offer of universal suffrage to Hong Kong came with an extremely restrictive framework allowing for only two to three establishment candidates, it was just another sign of the Chinese government taking greater control over its special administrative region,” says Stephan Ortmann from the City University of Hong Kong in his column in East Asia Forum. He further goes on to add that the Communist Party is worried that any form of popular mandate could make the chief executive in Hong Kong more powerful than the unelected leaders in China. Without any compromise from the Chinese side, the present reform proposal is likely to fail in the Legislative Council, where it needs the support of two-thirds of the legislators. This would mean securing some support from the pan-democracy camp, now united in opposition to the proposal. It is more than likely that Hong Kong will continue to be governed in its present form until at least 2047, when the ‘one-country, two-systems’ policy is set to end, says the Professor who seems to be optimistic about the autonomy of Hong Kong.
Anson Chan, former chief secretary of the Hong Kong government and now a champion of greater democracy, says the crux of the argument is whether Hong Kong gets a leader accountable to its own public or to the communist government in Beijing. “Unless you give legitimacy to the chief executive through genuine free elections, Hong Kong will become increasingly ungovernable and I’m afraid we are facing the possibility of social turmoil,” says Chan. Local political allies like Elsie Leung agree. She was on the committee of China’s parliament which drafted the election rules. “What is good for the UK or the US may not be good for Hong Kong. We are not a city state, we are a special administrative region of China,” argues Leung. However, it remains to be seen if the Chinese Govt. takes note of these pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and responds to them or sweeps them under the carpet as it has been doing for the human rights and civil liberties campaigns for the past many years.