HONG KONG – This is Asia’s Gotham City. And the people of Gotham have had enough. They want real democracy, one person, one vote. As for the current CEO of Gotham, Leung Chun-ying, aka C Y Leung, aka The Joker, he is no more than, well, a joke.
One of the great democracy-in-action performances across Asia is the annual ritual of Hong Kong celebrating the July 1, 1997, handover to China by the United Kingdom. This year was no different; arguably 400,000 people marched across Central, the city’s business center, to make their point, defying absolutely foul weather caused by an approaching typhoon.
Banners covered a vast spectrum – from generic calls for freedom to “Say No to China” and appeals for the release of Chinese dissidents such as 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
Nostalgic British empire-tinged “Chinese colonialists get out” banners were also in the mix. The Union Jack was a muscular presence, as well as Taiwan’s flag and even a Tibetan flag, which mysteriously “disappeared” in the early evening. But the catalyst was The Joker; informal polling at the march revealed that from 80% to 90% want him out.
Beijing, obviously, won’t be amused. This is not exactly what the Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping had in mind when he devised “one country, two systems”. C Y Leung has made it more like “one country, two-bit clown.” Even in a recent poll by Hong Kong University supposed to represent the overall population, 51% have had enough of this administration and 55% gave a vote of “no confidence” to The Joker.
He should start taking lessons from Egypt’s Morsi and Turkey’s Erdogan.
Hong Kong’s CEO is not elected by its 7 million increasingly angry residents, but carefully “selected” by a cozy group of 1,200 business tycoons and politicians, all of these already vetted by Beijing. Only 40 out of 70 Hong Kong legislators are elected directly; the other 30 are picked by that fabulous euphemism, “functional constituencies” – which translates once again into Beijing-friendly businessmen.
At least in theory, Beijing has sworn there will be direct elections for CEO in 2017, and for the full legislature in 2020. But there has been no practical discussion about it so far.
An Occupy Central campaign is already gathering steam, backed by an overwhelming majority of the pro-democracy movement; one of its focal points is the Civil Human Rights Front.
The objective is to discuss a roadmap towards universal suffrage. If The Joker and his administration do not come up with anything concrete, he’s bound to face a hardcore civil disobedience campaign next July 1, smack in the middle of Hong Kong’s business district.
So far, CY Leung emitted the required bureaucratic noise, pledging to consult the population at “an appropriate juncture” and urging them to “seek consensus.”
Hong Kong’s very particular brand of self-governance – which excludes national security, defense and foreign policy – was in stark relief recently with the case of the secrets whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose first port of call in his flight to safety from the US was Hong Kong. There was much pride on how the city withstood severe pressure from the US government. Yet no politically aware Hong Konger doubts that Beijing had a hand in the handling of Snowden’s departure.
Most of all, Hong Kong is the ultimate case study of post-globalization in its Mad Max phase. As Asia Times Online has reported, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) is essentially run by a cartel.
Real estate speculation is rife. Housing and rental costs are stratospheric. Russell St in Causeway Bay is the most expensive retail address on the planet. Inequality is rampant.
The population consider themselves Hong Kongers above all, not Chinese – and there’s a huge backlash against the non-stop influx of mainlanders who will take any job and whose culture is “alien”. Not to mention Beijing’s not undisguised interference in education policy, such as an attempt to introduce a “patriotic” curriculum in 2012. And, as far as the Joker is concerned, there is no dearth of political scandals.
A storm is definitely approaching. The Joker better start perfecting his karaoke version of Gimme Shelter.