Hong Kong’s elections: victory or setback for democracy?

The future of democracy in Hong Kong and implications of Sunday’s Legislative Council elections will be scrutinized at a mini-symposium tomorrow at 11am in room 305, York Lanes organized by the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR).

The event begins with a panel discussion at 11am on Democracy, Autonomy, and Political Change in Hong Kong, chaired by York Professor Susan Henders, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts. Panelists include Professor Wendy Wong of York’s Department of Design, Faculty of Fine Arts, and Professor Sonny Lo from the Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo.

Right: Hong Kong democracy protesters

Beginning at 1:30pm, a roundtable of Hong Kong specialists, again chaired by Henders, will analyze the election results. In addition to Lo, panelists for this discussion include Renita Wong, professor in the School of Social Work, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, and Eric Li, president of Hong Kong Link, a non-governmental group concerned with human rights issues in the former British colony.

Pro-democratic parties increased their seat count in Sunday’s election to 25 out of 30 directly elected seats (among 60 total) and walked away with the largest portion of the popular vote, said Henders. The voter turnout of 55.6 per cent was the highest in the history of Legislative Council elections.

“While not the overwhelming victory the pro-democratic camp was hoping for, it was a significant showing given an electoral system that penalizes the most popular parties, the scandals that hit the headlines just before the vote, and accusations by Chinese officials that pro-democracy leaders were ‘unpatriotic’,” Henders said. “The results suggest that the approximately half a million people who protested in Hong Kong streets on July 1 reflected widespread public disgruntlement with the status quo in the territory and a taste for democratic reform.”

Henders noted that the election outcome leaves the debate over further democratization in the territory simmering and confronts both local and Chinese authorities in China with a dilemma. The election had been called a referendum on China’s role in Hong Kong and the pace of democratic reforms in the territory. Chinese authorities and the Hong Kong government have rejected more democracy in Hong Kong for fear of triggering similar demands on the mainland and of undermining the power of the Hong Kong business establishment.

protesters2Right: Police control democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong

“Yet the current political system, where only half of the legislators are directly elected and the chief executive is handpicked by Chinese authorities, lacks popular legitimacy. This makes governing Hong Kong difficult at a time when important economic, social and political issues must be addressed,” Henders said.

Henders also noted that a Sept. 9 report by Human Rights Watch questioned Beijing’s intimidation of the media and voters in supporting pro-Beijing candidates.

The event is expected to attract members of the wider community. For more details, visit the YCAR Web site. Both sessions are open to the community. A light lunch will be provided and participants are asked to call either Peter Vandergeest, YCAR director, at ext. 44076 or Susan Henders at ext. 33158.