Last weekend, Hong Kong’s residents were supposed to be enjoying universal suffrage for the first time in history.
Instead, pro-democracy activists, over months of protests in 2014, rejected Beijing’s attempt at introducing a ‘Chinese’ vision of democracy that would have permitted Hong Kong’s citizens choose from among several pre-approved candidates. Those protests, which culminated in the ‘Occupy Central’ movement (also known as the ‘umbrella movement,’ a nod to the ubiquitous yellow umbrellas that protesters carried), effectively halted the adoption of a new elections law. So, on March 26,the same panel of business and civic leaders that have elected the special administration region’s executive for the last 20 years also elected Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017.
The result? The 1,194-member Election Committee chose Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), an experienced bureaucrat who has for the last five years served as chief secretary for administration — the most senior official in the Hong Kong government after the chief executive. Lam enjoyed the heavy, if unofficial, support of the central Chinese government. Given that the business professionals who dominate the Election Committee have much to lose by alienating Beijing, Lam became in recent months the heavy favorite to win. Opponents almost immediately mocked Lam, an increasingly unpopular administrator, for winning 777 votes — the number ‘seven’ is Cantonese slang for an impotent penis.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the last time Taiwan’s pro-independence party won the presidency, it was something of a disaster.
Sixteen years ago, opposition leader Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) ousted the ruling Kuomintang (KMT, 中國國民黨), the first time since the Republic of China (ROC) separated from the mainland in 1949.
Chen’s election came not long after Taiwan’s transition in the 1990s from one-party rule under the Kuomintang to emerging democracy. From day one, Chen faced a recalcitrant and wounded Kuomintang determined to throw roadblocks in the new government’s path. If Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民主進步黨) knew little about governing, the Kuomintang knew even less about serving as the loyal opposition.
Most of all, the Kuomintang still controlled Taiwan’s legislature, giving it the tools to frustrate Chen’s agenda.
Taiwan ultimately survived its first real test of democratic transition (and, perhaps most importantly, without causing hostilities with mainland China), but not without a few bruises.
Chen’s eight years in office weren’t without victories. Taiwan formally joined the World Trade Organization in 2002 and Chen’s administration handled the 2003 SARS epidemic adroitly. But Chen’s reelection campaign featured an assassination attempt (that the opposition claims was faked) and legal wrangling over the result in court after the election. Chen’s second term ended in a blaze of corruption charges, and he and his wife were convicted on bribery charges in 2009. Chen was released on medical parole only last January.
The DPP retreated to the opposition after the 2008 elections under the leadership of a soft-spoken policymaker, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who previously headed the Mainland Affairs Council in Chen’s first term from 2000 to 2004. A graduate of Cornell University and the London School of Economics, Tsai came to politics after a career as a law professor. Despite losing the 2012 presidential election, Tsai stayed on as the DPP’s leader, and she continued to rebrand the party in the post-Chen era, efforts that have now clearly paid off.
Channeling a wave of popular discontent with the Kuomintang’s growing efforts to tie Taiwan closer to mainland China, Tsai won a landslide victory today in Taiwan’s presidential election, as expected, giving the DPP a second chance to govern the country.
What’s more, the DPP (along with its allies in the ‘Pan-Green coalition’) for the first time in Taiwan’s history will control of the Legislative Yuan (立法院), giving Tsai an unfettered chance for political success.
From a global perspective, the DPP’s victory today, long expected, is important because it could create tensions with mainland China, where leaders have been ‘warning’ Tsai for months not to take a stridently anti-mainland tone to Cross-Strait relations, and state media reports on the Taiwanese election have ranged from patronizing to misogynist to downright insulting.
The DPP, in theoretical terms, still favors a formal declaration of independence from the mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC).
But even the more fiercely nationalist ‘deep green’ Chen never attempted a universal declaration during his administration, and no one expects Tsai, who is generally seen as a highly pragmatic and ‘light green’ leader, to do so.
In her victory speech, she emphasized that she will seek to maintain the status quo with Beijing, just as she has worked throughout the campaign to reassure both Beijing and Taiwan’s allies in Washington and elsewhere. But more radical members of her party, newly empowered with a legislative majority, could try to push Tsai into a more confrontational relationship with the PRC.
Tsai faces in PRC president Xi Jinping (习近平) a strong-willed adversary expected to hold office through 2022. Xi has consolidated more power than any mainland leader in decades, and he has consistently disregarded political reforms, instead cracking down on Internet censorship and undermining long-promised free elections in Hong Kong next year. Home rule advocates will be watching the dynamic between Taipei and Beijing more closely than anyone.
Practically, however, fresh tumbles in the Chinese stock markets and a looming sense of broader economic trouble in the wider PRC economy mean that Tsai will spend far more time worrying about Taiwan’s economy than about Cross-Strait strategy. Last week, PRC premier Li Keqiang admitted that the government’s ‘bazooka’ strategy of ever more government stimulus wasn’t working to turn around the fundamental problems with the mainland economy.
Taiwan still has one of the world’s most impressive economies, but it’s linked more closely than ever to the mainland Chinese economy. Fully 27% of Taiwanese exports now go to mainland China and another 13% go to Hong Kong. But GDP growth slowed to just 1% in 2015, and Taiwan risks entering a recession this year if the wider Chinese economy collapses.
As far as Taiwanese public opinion goes, the relatively pro-Chinese stand of president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been a disaster, especially in his second term.
When he leaves office early next year, Ma will do so as one of the most unpopular Taiwanese leaders in memory, stirring a popular revolt last year among Taiwanese citizens who believe his government has been too quick to cozy up to Beijing. The student-led ‘Sunflower movement’ protests so rattled Ma’s government that he abandoned what he hoped would become one of his administration’s most important policy achievements — the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, which would have liberalized many service sectors between mainland China and Taiwan, including tourism, finance and communications. Though Ma concluded negotiations with Beijing over the CSSTA, the Taiwanese parliament still hasn’t ratified the agreement.
Ma’s decision to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping (习近平) today is not necessarily a popular decision back home — and its swift announcement earlier this week was a bombshell in the campaign for Taiwanese elections just nine weeks away.
With just months left in office, his ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT, 中國國民黨), is far behind in the presidential race. For the first time in Taiwan’s history, the Kuomintang and its allies that form the Pan-Blue Coalition could lose control of Taiwan’s parliament. The Kuomintang’s first presidential candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the vice president of the Legislative Yuan (立法院), Taiwan’s unicameral legislature, sunk so low in polls since becoming the KMT presidential nominee in July that the party dumped her last month. Her replacement, Eric Chu (朱立倫), the party chairman and, since 2010, the mayor of New Taipei, is gaining little traction.
Neither Ma nor Xi are expected to announce any new policies or make any joint statements as a result of the meeting taking place today at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel, on ‘neutral’ ground. That’s not necessarily a problem, though, because the fact that the two are meeting on (relatively) equal — Ma as the head of the Kuomintang and Xi as the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, 中国共产党) — is historic in its own right.
Given that so much of Ma’s unpopularity stems from his pro-China stand, his meeting today in Singapore may well doom the Kuomintang’s chances entirely in January’s general election. Indeed, the party’s low standing in public opinion may have made it eaiser for Ma to engage Xi. The near-certainty of losing power might have liberated Ma toward a historic meeting that will almost certainly have long-term benefits for better cross-straits relations.
In one sense, Ma’s position follows naturally from the force of economic gravity — 27% of Taiwan’s exports now go to China, and another 13% go to Hong Kong. Direct flights between Taipei and Beijing are now commonplace, trade continues to rise and mainland tourists are no longer a rare sight. Though Taiwan has the world’s 19th largest economy and incomes are far higher in Taiwan than on the mainland, China’s growing economic prowess (even as it may be headed into recession) is simply a matter of fact. Among the issues Ma expected to raise with Xi: a direct hotline between Taipei and Beijing, greater cooperation from Beijing in dealing with Taiwan’s murky international status and Xi’s change of heart in inviting Taiwan to join the Beijing-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank that Xi formed last year as a counterweight to US-dominated global financial institutions.
Xi, a ‘princeling’ whose father was a top Party official, is expected to head the mainland Chinese government through 2022, has more thoroughly dominated the CCP than any leader since perhaps Mao Zedong, waging a widespread campaign against corruption within the Party that has snared so many top officials that critics argue it functions as a purge of Xi’s internal rivals. Fresh off meetings to design China’s next five-year economic program, Xi’s government has been particularly aggressive, if not successful, about ameliorating economic headwinds, including failed efforts to stop a Chinese stock market crash over the summer. Two weeks ago, China formally ended its ‘one-child’ policy, and Xi’s government has worked with the United States to establish goals to reduce Chinese (and global) carbon emissions in the next two decades, plans that will take center stage at the international summit on climate change next month in Paris.
Nevertheless, the Chinese economy faces a difficult patch as its working population ages and it transitions from top-down growth built on internal improvements and an economy based on manufactured exports produced mainly along China’s dense eastern coast. Politically, Xi has gradually cracked down on dissent and tightened internal controls on Internet freedom. Nevertheless, he faces an angry Hong Kong population that has demanded a greater voice in choosing who will be eligible to stand for chief executive in 2017. Relations between Beijing and China’s western ethnic communities, such as the Uyghurs and the Tibetans, are still strained. The last thing Xi wants is a reversal of Beijing’s gains with Taiwan since 2008. It’s been Xi (and not Ma) who has resisted a meeting in the past; Xi’s accession to today’s meeting reflects that growing economic ties alone are not enough to secure those gains.
In local elections last year, the Kuomintang suffered defeats nationwide, including the Taipei mayoral elections, where an independent candidate, Dr. Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), a respected surgeon, easily took power with the support of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民主進步黨). The losses were so severe that Taiwan’s prime minister stepped down. Those losses seem likely to multiply on January 16, when the DPP seems likely to win the presidency for just the second time in Taiwanese history. Continue reading Ma-Xi meeting takes place with Kuomintang’s political woes looming→
In January 2014, the Shanghai Composite Index was hovering at around 2,000.
Today, it’s ‘down’ to just above 3,600 and everyone from Beijing to London is gnashing teeth and wrenching hands over the great Chinese stock market crash of 2015.
However, in the light of the massive gains of the past two years, the current bear market seems more like a correction than a crash. You wouldn’t know it, though, from the response of China’s one-party state, which has intervened in just about every way imaginable to prop up the equities market.
Part of the anxiety, both in China and abroad, is due to the country’s role in the global economy — as the era of double-digit annual growth slows to ‘just’ 6% or 7% growth, global demand from the world’s largest economy will invariably slow. That will have a global impact. But no one expected China to grow at spectacularly outsized rates for decades without end, and that alone isn’t necessarily enough to torpedo the US or European economies. The ups and downs of China’s wild stock markets, moreover, aren’t necessarily correlated with long-term economic growth. That doesn’t obviate some of the real harms suffered by largely unsophisticated retail investors who dumped their savings into Chinese stocks during the rally of the past year and a half.
This underlines that the real crisis is political, not economic. Under pressure to ‘do something,’ the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) is doing a little of everything — devaluing the yuan, halting new IPOs, prohibiting trading in some of the hardest-hit stocks, buying stock in an attempt to keep prices artificially high, cutting interest rates. Certain institutional investors will not be permitted to trade (i.e. sell) stocks for up to six months.
It’s a panicky response that only further perpetuates the ‘crash’ narrative and further sell-offs. But it’s also the response of a governing regime that knows — and knows that the Chinese people know — there’s no competing political party to blame. Chinese leaders often argue that the one-party system incentivizes long-term policy planning because there’s no short-term gains to be had from elections every two years. But the acute knowledge that the Communist Party owns every policy (and every policy misstep) cuts both ways. The current stock market turbulence shows that Chinese Communists, just like American Republicans or Democrats, aren’t above taking hasty steps to end short-term political pain. Continue reading China’s stock market crash is a political, not economic, crisis→
The father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, died Monday at the age of 91.
Obituaries, prepared long ago by news outlets for Lee’s passing, will note that Lee presided over Singapore’s economic transformation from an uncertain city on the Malaysian peninsula into one of the world’s wealthiest countries on the strength of a strong central government, a thriving market economy, strict social conformity and a bit of soft authoritarianism.
The deal that Lee offered Singapore in 1965, for the next 25 years of his premiership and the ensuing 25 years of his ‘retirement’ that saw the rise of his son, Lee Hsien Loong, as prime minister in 2004, is simple: the promise of sustained economic growth and a robust social safety net at the expense of real democracy, liberal freedoms of speech and expression and a strong free press. It also entailed a nanny state, enforced by cultural norms as much as by government diktat, that deployed housing quotas to integrate Indian and Malay minorities among the larger ethnic Chinese population, forced retirement savings, compulsory two-year military service for Singaporean men, and strict rules that imposed the death penalty on drug offenses and that nudged (or pushed) Singaporeans to be more polite, learn English, stop chewing gum and self-censor any dissent of Lee and his ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
As many of Lee’s obituaries will proclaim, it’s a deal that appeared to work — Singapore today has a (nominal) GDP per capita of over US$55,000, slightly higher than the United States, and political and economic experts alike routinely use words like ‘miracle’ to describe Singapore’s rise to become one of the wealthiest, most developed countries in the world.
Central to the Singapore story was Lee himself — indeed, the first in his series of memoirs is entitled simply ‘The Singapore Story.’
But how central was Lee to the modern creation of Singapore? He’s become a beloved figure, especially in the United States in the business-school-case-study-set kind of way. It’s impossible to separate Lee’s life and his role in Singapore’s rise, but it’s not impossible to argue that Lee was shrewd, competent and… very lucky.
In Hong Kong, they may be protesting with umbrellas, but in Taiwan earlier this year, it was sunflowers.
As Beijing locks itself into what now seems like a needless showdown with the pro-democracy activists who have formed Hong Kong’s ‘Occupy Central with Peace and Love,’ among the chief incentives for proceeding with caution are mainland China’s relations with the Republic of China (ROC), the island of Taiwan, which split from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 in the aftermath of the Chinese civil war and which has maintained its de facto sovereignty ever since, to the annoyance of decades of Chinese leadership.
Even as Western commentators trot out tired comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown (at a time when Hong Kong’s British colonial governors were not prioritizing democratization in any form), the Hong Kong protests have a readier comparison to the ‘Sunflower Student’ movement in Taiwan earlier this spring, when another group of protesters demonstrated against closer ties between Taiwan and the PRC.
In June 2013, Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the ruling Kuomintang (中國國民黨) signed the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with mainland China, which would liberalize trade in services between Beijing and Taipei, including, most controversially, tourism, finance and communications. When Ma (pictured above) tried to push the CSSTA through the Taiwanese legislature without as much political deliberation as promised, an already skeptical Taiwanese opposition howled, and CSSTA protesters occupied the Legislative Yuan (立法院) to stop Ma’s push to ratify the agreement. Today, Taiwan’s legislature still hasn’t approved the CSSTA.
Moreover, Ma came out in favor of the Hong Kong protests on Monday and reiterated earlier this week his opposition to reunification with mainland China:
“We fully understand and support Hong Kong people in their call for full universal suffrage,” Ma told a gathering of business leaders in Taipei.
“Developments in Hong Kong have drawn the close attention of the world in the past few days. Our government has also been very concerned,” he added. “We urge the mainland authorities to listen to the voice of Hong Kong people and use peaceful and cautious measures to handle these issues.”
Cross-Straits relations have crested and ebbed over the last 65 years, but today it’s indisputable that Taiwan and mainland China have more ties than ever. Since 2008, direct flights between Taiwan and China have greatly intertwined the two economies, and a deluge of Chinese investment has taken root in Taiwan.
While Hong Kong and Taiwan have very different histories and relationships with the PRC, they share many similarities, so it’s not surprising to see so many similarities between the two popular anti-Beijing movements that swept across both jurisdictions in 2014.
In the second half of the 20th century, Taiwan and Hong Kong both became magnets for defectors from the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党), and both Taiwan and Hong Kong became pockets of economic prosperity while mainland China languished under Mao Zedong (毛泽东) and his fearsome reign of socialism, rural famine and political terror. Throughout, both Hong Kong and Taiwan developed particular cultural identities, such that majorities in both places see themselves today as Hong Kongers and Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
Both Hong Kongers and Taiwanese also worry that Beijing is plotting to bring Hong Kong and Taiwan more firmly within its grasp. If it’s outlandish to think that Beijing can accomplish that goal with military might, it’s not difficult to believe it can do so through economic and political coercion. That’s exactly the kind of insidious influence that motivates both the Occupy Central’s fight for Hong Kong’s democratic sovereignty and the Sunflower Student movement’s fight for Taiwan’s economic sovereignty. Continue reading Taiwan warily eyes battle of wills between Beijing and Hong Kong→
It’s not just Hong Kong that wants a greater voice in selecting its own government — its smaller cousin Macau is increasingly demanding wider democratic choice as well.
Earlier this summer, activists in Hong Kong waged an increasingly vocal campaign to bring greater democracy to the special administrative region (SAR), through an online referendum advocating the direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017, and a movement, ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace,’ that’s threatened to shut down the city’s downtown core in protest.
The central Chinese government responded with a white paper that appeared to disregard some of the fundamental tenets of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle that’s guided Hong Kong’s administration since its handover from British to Chinese authorities in 1997, forcing Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, not known for his democratic sympathies, to work to reduce tension between the two camps.
Perhaps no one was watching the tussle between Hong Kong and Beijing more than the residents of Macau, where its own chief executive, Fernando Chui, will almost certainly win reelection on August 31.
Macau, like Hong Kong, reverted only recently to Chinese control — in 1999 from Portuguese colonial authority that stretched back to the 17th century. Like Hong Kong, Macau operates on the principle of ‘one country, two systems,’ and it has its own Basic Law guiding the election of a chief executive and legislature. Unlike Hong Kong, however, Macau’s Basic Law does not include a commitment to ‘one-person, one-vote’ suffrage.
Normally, an unofficially referendum conducted online isn’t worth paying much attention — just ask the residents of Venice who organized a deeply flawed, overwrought poll on Venetian independence that attracted just 135,000 participants after initially claiming 2.4 million.
But it’s worth noting the ongoing online referendum that the Hong Kong-based ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ has organized, because it’s one element of a larger struggle between democracy activists and Beijing that could have major repercussions — not only for Hong Kong, but for the future political development of Macau, the Chinese mainland and, possibly, Taiwan.
Occupy Central’s chief goal is to open the nominating process for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive. Hong Kong’s Basic Law, promulgated prior to the 1997 handover to govern the Hong Kong special administrative region, provides for the eventual democratic election of a chief executive. It’s a development that dates back over two decades to the negotiations between the British and Chinese governments over the 1997 handover. Ten years ago, Chinese officials finally relented and committed to some form of universal suffrage for the 2017 race.
Trouble began brewing earlier this month, however, when Beijing released a provocative ‘white paper’ on Hong Kong that took an aggressive posture with respect to Hong Kong’s future:
Published by the State Council Information Office, the unprecedented white paper states that “many wrong views are currently rife in Hong Kong” with regard to the “one country, two systems” principle that governs the territory’s relationship with Beijing. Some residents are “confused or lopsided in their understanding” of the principle, it adds.
“The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power,” said the paper. “It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership.”
Exactly 50 years ago today — on June 12, 1963 — a young 37-year-old civil rights activist was brutally shot in the back in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
That young activist, Medgar Evers, had spent his tragically truncated life as the field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a role in which he helped James Meredith break the segregation barrier in order to become the first black male to enroll in the University of Mississippi in 1962.
Evers today has entered the pantheon of American heroes. His remains lie in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. If you fly into Jackson today, you’ll fly into Mississippi’s largest airport, which is now named in honor of Evers. But at the time, his murderer was twice freed after a jury, comprised solely of white men, refused to convict him — he was convicted only in 1994 on the basis of new evidence.
In the 50 years since Evers death, the United States has become a much more equal place — after all, it elected its first non-white president five years ago, and it’s had two black secretaries of state. The world of white privilege and segregation that Evers — and Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders of the 1960s — fought to tear down is unrecognizable today.
But that doesn’t mean the cause for civil rights is over. Within the United States alone, black Americans remain far behind, as a group, on terms of socioeconomic gains. Immigrants to the United States, many of whom came to this country as young children, remain in painful legal limbo. Gay and lesbian Americans struggle not just for the right to same-sex marriage, but the right to live, work and exist without prejudice. A U.S. prison population in excess of seven million people (though that number is starting to decline), many of who are in prison for non-violent offenses, faces innumerable challenges to even their basic safety behind bars. The revelations of the NSA and PRISM programs show that the U.S. government continues to push forward with new surveillance tools that, though they may enhance homeland security, innumerably reduce global privacy rights.
That highlights the fact that the lines between greater civil rights in the United States and greater civil rights globally has blurred. In many ways, the work of Medgar Evers is now a broader, globalized struggle. U.S. activists work alongside European, Asia, Arab and African activists to challenge inequality worldwide.
In Turkey, the crackdown this week of protesters at Taksim Square by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have highlighted the fact that the biggest threat isn’t creeping Islamism, but the more garden-variety illiberal disregard for basic civil rights like freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and deeper abuses of power that have hollowed out Turkey’s democracy.
Even as western Europe enters a world of same-sex marriage equality, many pockets of the world feature significant hurdles for gay and lesbian individuals — sub-Saharan Africa continues to treat gay activists with brutality and just yesterday, Russia passed a troublingly broad anti-gay law.
In Iran, moderate presidential candidate Hassan Rowhani has pushed for the loosening of political and cultural censorship and greater political freedoms within the framework of Iran’s existing Islamic republic.
In the People’s Republic of China, residents of Hong Kong marched last week on the occasion of the anniversary of the government crackdown on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The Arab Spring protests of 2011 — from Bahrain to Tunisia to Egypt — have made political participation unavoidable throughout the Arab world, even if new majoritarian Islamist governments now face new civil rights challenges in finding a way to make Islamic democracy work without introducing new elements of religious, political and gender-based inequality.
A few hundred miles from the coast of Florida, Haitians continue to suffer from some of the worst poverty in the world, exacerbated by the tolls taken by the 2010 earthquake.
So as today’s more globalized fight for civil rights continues, it’s worth reflecting today to remember Evers and an entire generation of Americans who defined much of the content of what we think of as ‘civil rights’ in their fight for racial equality in the United States half a century ago.
Bottom photo credit to Kevin Lees — Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, May 2012.
Outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang apologized on Friday to Hong Kong residents one day after two damning reports criticized Tsang for accepting luxurious gifts and favors from business tycoons and misuse of public funds — the report of one three-month inquiry, established by Tsang himself amid impeachment calls in March, found his conduct “totally inappropriate”:
“Because I handled matters improperly, public confidence in Hong Kong’s government as a clean government was shaken and our colleagues in the civil service were disappointed,” he said, bowing his head and looking on the verge of tears. “Here I sincerely apologise once again.”
The disclosure that Tsang had accepted favors from Hong Kong businessmen, including travel of yachts and private jets, special deals for rent on a penthouse in Shenzhen, and other gifts, rocked Hong Kong at the height of the campaign to replace Tsang, who had previously enjoyed a sterling reputation for probity, first as a civil servant for over three decades and as chief executive since 2005.
In another instance, Tsang was discovered to have spent public money for a $6,900 per night suite on a visit to Brazil.
[Former chief justice Andrew Li Kwow-nang] recommended that legislation be enacted so that accepting advantages required the permission of a statutory independent panel, which consists of three members, including a chairman, to be appointed jointly by the chief justice and the president of the Legislative Council.
The committee also suggested that the chief executive and his spouse can receive gifts valued below HK$400; gifts valued between HK$400 and HK$1,000 – if the gifts are inscribed with the chief executive’s or his spouse’s names; and invitations to functions or performances worth up to HK$2,000.
The scandal only amplified other charges of sleaze and corruption surrounding Henry Tang, who lost the chief executive election to Leung Chun-ying on March 25 when it became increasingly clear that both the Hong Kong public and the Chinese leadership in Beijing preferred Leung. Although the 1200-member Election Committee were the only ones with votes in the election, Hong Kong residents made their voices heard loudly during the campaign. It is expected that Hong Kong will hold its first openly democratic chief executive race in 2017.
Tsang will step down on June 30, but said he would work with his successor to craft anti-corruption legislation, which would be an unprecedented step for Hong Kong as it prepares to open the door to full democracy.
Such legislation will rise to the top of Leung’s agenda, which also includes increasingly high housing prices for Hong Kong residents, the strains placed on Hong Kong’s health, housing and other public services by migrants from mainland China and Article 23, a long-controversial anti-subversion law.
It has not been the best week for newly elected Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who’s already garnered loud criticism for appearing too close to Beijing — and he was the “popular” candidate!
“Beijing blatantly interfered in our election,” said retiree Lam Sum-shing, 69, who was wearing a green army uniform and a mask with Leung’s photo. “I’m wearing this to show he will be a yes man for Beijing. He was not chosen by the seven million Hong Kong people, he was chosen by 689 pro-Beijing elitists.”
Given that Hong Kong residents fiercely guard their autonomy under the “one China, two systems” rubric whereby prior freedoms under British colonial rule — press freedom, economic liberalization, rights to assembly — are meant to continue for at least 50 years in the special administrative region, this was perhaps not Leung’s smartest move — especially given the rumors during the election campaign that Leung was a secret member of the Chinese Communist Party.
After one of the most raucous campaigns in Hong Kong’s — or China’s — history, Leung Chun-ying has emerged as the victor in Hong Kong’s election for a new chief executive.
Leung won 689 votes from the 1,200-member Elections Committee to just 285 votes for Henry Tang and 76 for pro-democracy candidate Albert Ho:
The race had become unexpectedly chaotic over the past months — the initial frontrunner Tang was plagued first by infidelity accusations and then by more serious scandals about illegal construction of a basement in his home — culminating in a media frenzy outside his Hong Kong building. Tang was also almost certainly hurt by other corruption charges that recently emerged the outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang, in whose administration Tang had played key roles.
Although both Tang and Leung were seen as sufficiently pro-Beijing, Tang’s missteps and scandals made him wildly unpopular among the Hong Kong populace at large, with Leung leading most preference polls during the campaign.
Looking forward, perhaps the most important lesson of the race is that Hong Kong –and China — can withstand the sometimes messy process of popular democracy and the media coverage that accompanies it.
China has indicated it will permit a direct election in the 2017 chief executive race — if it follows through with that promise, PRC officials can look to the 2012 race as a promising precedent on the road to full democracy for the special administrative region. Beijing’s dexterity in shifting its support, however subtle, from Tang to Leung, demonstrates that it would have been able to recognize with equal grace a popular vote resulting in Leung’s election as well. More strident voices — like those of the Democracy Party and Albert Ho — have been met with damp enthusiasm from Hong Kong residents and elites alike, who are pragmatic in realizing that the chief executive must be able to work with, and not against, China’s leadership.
Tomorrow (March 24) is a big day for anglosphere politics:
Canada’s New Democratic Party holds its leadership election to replace the late Jack Layton, who led the NDP in 2011 to defeat the Liberal Party to become Canada’s Official Opposition.
The Australian state of Queensland holds elections, where longtime Labor Party domination (since 1996) will likely come to an end in a key test for both former Labor prime minister (and Queensland native) Kevin Rudd and Labor current prime minister Julie Gillard in the wake of their Labor Party leadership showdown.
On Sunday (March 25), two more elections of note:
Senegal goes to the polls in a runoff in the presidential election, where former prime minister seems poised to overtake his one-time mentor, incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade. Read Suffragio’s coverage of the election, including the leadup to the first round, here.
The 1,200-member Elections Committee meets to choose Hong Kong’s new chief executive, which has turned into a fight between Beijing favorite Leung Chun-ying and tycoon developer favorite Henry Tang (the scandal-plagued former Beijing favorite). Read Suffragio’s coverage here.
Liu Yandong, a member of China’s decision-making Politburo with key responsibility over Hong Kong, visited the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen this week to lobby election committee members for Leung, according to media reports.
“It is definitely a fact that the China Liaison Office is canvassing and pulling votes for C.Y. Leung,” said a member of the election committee. A media relations officer at the office denied it was backing one candidate over another.
Leung, now widely seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, is apparently still short of the 601 minimum votes needed for an outright win, after securing only 510 to 590 votes by late yesterday – many at the expense of chief rival Henry Tang Ying-yen – according to the latest count by theSouth China Morning Post…. The number of votes pledged to Leung could rise by Sunday if members in subsectors like engineering and accounting, many of whom have yet to make their intentions public, back Leung, the former Executive Council convenor, who last month had 305 votes pledged.
Furthermore, a bundle of 60 votes comprised of representatives from the Federation of Trade Unions will be pledged to Leung, it was announced Friday. That alone represents 10% of the votes Leung will need to win an outright victory — one candidate much achieve a full majority of the Elections Committee in order to avoid a new vote in May. Continue reading The wolf closes in on the pig in HK race→
The three candidates for Hong Kong chief executive faced off in a final debate Monday, ostensibly to discuss property in Hong Kong.
The two top candidates, Henry Tang (above middle) and Leung Chun-ying (above left), traded barbs, and Tang even accused Leung of defamation, a somewhat puzzling development in the topsy-turvy race.
The race, once Tang’s to lose, is now a toss-up — the 1200-member Elections Committee makes its decision Sunday. Although Hong Kong’s business elite have long preferred Tang, leaders in the People’s Republic of China have indicated some ambivalence about Tang as he’s become more embroiled in scandals. Some observers believe remarks last week from Chinese premier Wen Jiabao show an unmistakable tilt toward Leung, who is by far the most popular choice among the Hong Kong populace.