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Home > East Asia > 

HK democrats at a disadvantage
Paul Lin
9/11/2004

Hong Kong might not be as democratic as Taiwan, but its Legislative Council (LegCo) used to run cleaner election campaigns than Taiwan -- with better rule of law, and less gangster involvement or corruption. This, however, is no longer the case. Such a change has a lot to do with China's intervention. As the Sept. 12 LegCo election approaches, more problems are becoming apparent.

First, Beijing attempts to control Hong Kong-based media with the help of gangsters -- a prelude to its oppression of the pro-democracy activists. The gang-sters have blackmailed talk show panelists who embrace justice. Beijing, in return, has rewarded them for their patriotism with closer ties. Rewards such as political titles and easy access to the Chinese market have also been given to the owners of media organizations who have chosen to side with Beijing in this election. No wonder most media organizations in Hong Kong have unleashed attacks on the pro-democracy activists, striking a major blow.

Second, China is conducting a smear campaign against the pro-democracy activists. It used to criticize the smear campaigns in Taiwan, but now it is resorting to every conceivable means. For example, the security department in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, arrested Democratic Party candidate Ho Wai To under the charge of procuring the services of prostitutes. Without being tried in court he was sentenced by the department to six months education in custody. The department also made his detailed "confession" public.

Third, China's intelligence agencies have also taken the initiative. A few weeks ago, some pro-democracy sympathizers writing in newspaper columns revealed that Chinese agents had been sent to Hong Kong to collect information against the pro-democracy camp. Unfortunately, some members of the camp ignored the warnings. As a result, not only was Ho arrested, but James To was also accused of using public funds to rent a property.

The so-called "brain" of the Democratic Party, Law Chi-kwang, believing Beijing to be sincere in wanting a reconciliation, went to Shanghai for an academic visit. But he was refused entry and his visa confiscated. When asked why, the Chinese customs official said Law himself should have known the reason.

Fourth, Beijing is carrying out operations in a manner similar to tactics used during the Boxer Rebellion. The "Boxer" figures in Hong Kong, often referred to as the Victoria Park Old Men, are veterans of the 1967 left-wing riots. Dismissed by society for decades, they have now regained their force and passionately attack the pro-democracy camp. They routinely insult democracy leaders with vulgar and violent language in the City Forum they hold every Sunday in the park. The harshest criticism is directed at legislators like Emily Lau, Szeto Wah and Martin Lee. The verbal attacks have even developed into physical clashes. These Victoria Park Old Men are also suspected of making threatening phone calls, and disruptive behavior such as throwing paint and feces, and setting up explosions. Under the leniency of the police, their activities continue, thus putting Hong Kong's rule of law at risk.

Fifth, thieves and the like are also taking part. The main force in the pro-democracy camp, the Democratic Party, has not been their only target. Frontier, a political organization, and Albert Cheng, a talk show host who decided to run for a legislative seat after his show was boycotted, have also fallen victim.

Frontier convener Emily Lau's residence was broken into on Aug. 29 after she had gone out. The break-in was so professionally done that Lau did not immediately notice that it had happened when she returned, nor did she find anything missing. Yet the documents at her home could have been photographed. The only noticeable difference was a pair of socks that had been moved from a storage room and placed on a table. Lau could not guess the meaning of this.

Lau and Cheng, however, did not back off. Chen has campaigned many times in a pro-China electorate and been cornered by dozens of the Victoria Park old men. He turned to the police for help in maintaining order and protecting his safety.

Amid these odd happenings, Philip Wong was elected in a functional constituency without campaigning for it. He certainly has powerful connections.

Lau Chin-shek, a pro-democracy heavyweight who advocates reconciliation with China, suddenly needed to show his filial duty last month (although his father has been dead for more than two decades). For this reason he did not take part in any electoral debates. Maybe he will still be able to win with the votes James To lost in the scandal over his rental property.

These incidents put the pro-democracy camp at a great disadvantage in the election. The camp lacks the ability to handle crises and has experienced a decline in public support. It has tried to reverse the situation by organizing a campaign convention, but Beijing may still work to disclose more information against it. Therefore, the situation does not look good.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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