September 24th 2016

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COVER STORY Shorten takes low road to defeat marriage plebiscite

CANBERRA OBSERVED Plebiscite debate will be civil despite "Shrill" Bill

ENVIRONMENT More pseudo science from climate

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Memo to Shorten, Wong: LGBTIs don't want it

U.S. POLITICS Trumping the elites like shooting fish in a barrel

SOCIAL POLICY Guidelines turn shows of displeasure into "violence"

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong voters reject heavy-handed Beijing

EUTHANASIA Senators, take your marks for the race to the bottom

PHILOSOPHY Life: a miracle by any reasonable calculation

MILITARY HISTORY The capture of the old German lines at Pozieres

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS South China Sea powder keg may blow anytime

MUSIC Messiaen reaches to where the shadow falls

CINEMA Atonement for blood debts: Blood Father

BOOK REVIEW Freedom as a weapon to destroy freedom

BOOK REVIEW There and back again


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Hong Kong voters reject heavy-handed Beijing

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 24, 2016

A record turnout of over 2 million voters saw a swing towards younger leaders who oppose Beijing’s increasingly public efforts to muzzle free speech in Hong Kong.

The election took place as Chinese President Xi Jinping was hosting the G20 meeting in Hangzhou, a Chinese coastal city near Shanghai.

The visit by U.S. President Barack Obama was characterised by a series of behind-the-scenes incidents as Chinese officials repeatedly limited the operations of both U.S. government officials and media to cover Obama’s presence at the summit.

Hong Kong, formerly a British colony, was handed over to Beijing in 1997, after the communist regime promised to allow the designated Special Administrative Region to continue to have free elections, freedom of expression and an independent judiciary, under the “one country, two systems” formula agreed to with Britain.

However, Beijing has put increasing pressure on Hong Kong by insisting on a right of veto of candidates standing for the Legislative Council – five candidates’ nominations were refused by China. Other incidents include the recent kidnapping of five publishers who had published salacious material about the Chinese leadership, and the buyout of the main Hong Kong English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post.

There is widespread fear that Beijing is moving to throttle, or at least intimidate, any pro-democracy forces within Hong Kong.

The election outcome is a setback for Beijing.

The rules under which the Legislative Council (Legco) is elected are heavily weighted in favour of Beijing. Thirty of the 70 seats are reserved for business and professional bodies that are dominated by supporters of Beijing.

Under this structure, it is impossible for pro-democracy parties to get a majority of 36, as they virtually have to win all the seats that are directly elected by the people.

The pro-democracy parties need to win a majority of the seats that are popularly elected in order to block attempts by Beijing to change the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which is effectively Hong Kong’s constitution.

Opaque election system

Hong Kong has a very complicated election system, the obscurity of which helps Beijing.

Thirty seats are held by what are known as “functional groups”, representing business and the professions. Of these over 80 per cent are pro-Beijing. There are 35 geographical seats, and five super-seats, which are elected from larger district council areas.

In the 2012 election, the pan-democratic coalition held 27 seats: 18 in geographical constituencies and nine in functional constituencies. The pro-Beijing group held 43 seats: 17 in geographical constituencies and 26 in functional constituencies.

In the elections held on September 4, there was an increased voter turnout, from 53 per cent in the last election to 60 per cent, and the pro-democracy forces won an increased share of the vote, and 30 seats.

Having a large minority of votes has served to act as a restraint on the pro-Beijing legislature in the past. Among the pro-democracy candidates elected were some of the young leaders of the Occupy movement that organised street protests in 2014.

Others support Hong Kong becoming independent of Beijing, a position that earlier pro-democracy campaigners had regarded as impossible.

However, the election of pro-independence MPs is a clear expression of popular resentment at the high-handed attitude of the Chinese regime.

French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) reported: “A new generation of young Hong Kong politicians advocating a break from Beijing looked set to become lawmakers in the biggest poll since mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014.

“A record 2.2 million people voted in the city-wide legislative election which ended in the early hours of Monday and saw activists who support Hong Kong’s independence from China standing for the first time.

“It comes as fears grow that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city in a range of areas, from politics to education and media.

“In a landmark victory, at least three of a handful of young campaigners calling for much more distance from Beijing were forecast to win seats, with 90 per cent of the vote counted.

“Among them is Nathan Law, 23, leader of the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ rallies, who is guaranteed a seat after coming second in his constituency behind a pro-Beijing candidate. Law and his new party, Demosisto, are calling for a referendum on independence, emphasising Hong Kongers’ right to choose.”

Beijing’s reaction to the election was muted.  It did applaud the decline in representation for the older pro-democracy parties but ignored that that decline was more than balanced by a rise in younger MPs urging full independence from Beijing.

The election is widely seen as a popular rejection of Beijing’s heavy-handed attempts to limit democratic freedoms in Hong Kong. Many young Hong Kong voters fear that the 50-year agreement between Britain and China, which expires in 2047, could lead to the extinction of human rights in Hong Kong.

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