Politics and Pedestrians

On New Year’s Eve, 9pm, Tsim Sha Tsui was packed with revellers. Everyone seemed to be having a good time; even the South Asian touts who are normally aggressive in their pitches for fake watches, tailored suits and Indian restaurants were taking it easy and hanging out in the middle of Nathan Road. Hundreds of thousands of people filled streets normally choked with traffic, including — judging by the amount of Mandarin being spoken — many tourists from mainland China. So what better time for pro-democracy activists to get their message across?

After all, it’s been an eventful season for politics in this part of the world. It started with a plan by politicians from two of Hong Kong’s opposition parties to resign en masse in January, forcing by-elections that would serve as de facto referendums on democracy. What’s at stake are constitutional reforms slated for 2012. That’s supposed to be the year that Hong Kong gains universal sufferage, putting an end to the current corporatist system, whereby half the legislature is elected by the people and the other half is elected by members of “functional constituencies” that represent various professions and industries. But China’s National People’s Congress has decided to indefinitely postpone Hong Kong’s date with full democracy. The mass resignations would be a litmus test to see just how badly Hongkongers want a say in how they are governed.

On December 20th, Macau observed the tenth anniversary of its handover to China. As the bigwigs from Beijing watched the territory’s new chief executive mangle his Mandarin-language inaugural speech (prompting some colonialesque hand-wringing about how poorly Macanese and Hongkongers speak the exalted National Language), several pro-democracy legislators from Hong Kong were turned away at Macau’s border — not the first time they’ve been denied entry. While he was in town, Chinese president Hu Jintao praised Macau for obediently passing an anti-sedition law that Hongkongers rejected in 2003; he went on to tut-tut about Hong Kong’s tendency to tolerate political dissent.

Then China riled everyone up by sentencing the intellectual Liu Xiaobo to eleven years in prison. Liu was one of 308 intellectuals and human rights activists who signed Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democratic freedoms and greater freedom of expression in China. He was arrested immediately before its publication, tried and found guilty of subversion.

The Sunday after Liu was sentenced, a protest was held at the Lo Wu border crossing between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Even though the protesters stayed on the Hong Kong side of the border, witnesses say that four activists and two journalists were dragged over to the Shenzhen side and detained by Chinese police. Hong Kong police initially dismissed the allegations, but they launched an investigation after a public outcry.

All of this means that political tensions are running high and opposition groups are eager to get their message across to the public, especially in light of polls that show that Hongkongers are quite receptive to that message. So on New Year’s Eve, supporters of the League of Social Democrats canvassed in front of banners depicting cartoon versions of the party’s most prominent members, including Leung Kwok-hung, famous for his long hair and Che Guavara t-shirts, and Raymond Wong, famous for throwing a banana in the legislature. The the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, meanwhile, set up an information booth about Charter 08 and hosted a mini-concert of activist music.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Saturday January 02 2010at 11:01 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Politics, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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