I recently caught up with an old friend who has spent the last 4 years in Shanghai. He and his family have recently relocated back to Hong Kong for work. “Hong Kong is not the same city we left,” he said. “There’s been a fundamental change.”
When I asked him what he meant, he told me how over a family dinner his brother-in-law had received an email from work ordering him to sign a petition. If he did not, the email threatened, he would lose his job. He signed the petition. “No one at dinner seemed bothered by what was said,” he said. “This is not the Hong Kong I know.”
The petition he was asked to sign is being run by the Alliance for Peace and Democracy. They deliberately choose not to engage an independent organisation to design, run or verify the poll. There is no mechanism to prevent double counting. Children and non-Hong Kong residents can and have been encouraged to vote. Indeed, when a volunteer was videoed double voting in front of Robert Chow, the leader of the Alliance, his response was first to ask whether it had been caught on camera, and when told that it had, he nonchalantly told the journalists present to “well, go write about it.”
The petition claims to represent the “silent majority” of people who the Alliance claim don’t support Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP). The four questions posed are: Do you support peace? Do you support democracy? Are you against violence? Are you against Occupy Central? These simple questions re-enforce political ignorance. And it is always Occupy Central only – the mention of Love and Peace conveniently dropped. It is not Occupy Wall Street as an opinion piece in China Daily mistakenly confused it to be, but perhaps this was the intention.
Robert Chow spoke of people being threatened by “what Occupy Central really represents”. Yet he is the one telling people what they represent. The position of the Alliance is itself never stated in the petition, and yet it claims the people’s support for Beijing’s line.
Why have OCLP caused such offence? Firstly, they have proposed and then initiated a democratic process by which all Hong Kong people may suggest and then vote on a position on democratic reform to put to the government as a position from which Hong Kong should negotiate the level of political reform as outlined by the Basic Law. Yes, this may mean demands for democratic reform beyond that spelled out by the Basic Law – but they are also the conditions required for Hong Kong people for legitimate government.
Secondly, to weigh down the proposed position OCLP have added a threat. The threat, grounded on the results of a long and open consultation process and two referendums, is for 10,000 select people to peacefully occupy Central district for a limited and given time. They do not wish to shut down the city, nor can they. 40,000 amahs occupy Central each Sunday. What is proposed is a symbolic act of civil disobedience intended to embarrass authority by showing, as Rosa Parks once did, that some people are not prepared to sit where they are told.
Hong Kong has become political. It is also polarised. But by whose actions and in whose advantage? The OCLP referendum and the July 1st march united the democratic camp, not in specifics but around what the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong people agree on in principle: a government that is genuinely representative of this unique city in China; and less interference in our internal affairs. For all its fault OCLP and the referendum in June has tried to unite Hong Kong people around these common goals. So if this city is polarised, it is only because we are being told to be so.
The Alliance and its petition has not sought to educate or engage. It has played the patriot card to villagers in the Northern New Territories; the business card to the journeymen of Central; and the polite and pacifist card to middle class housewives. It has encouraged and abetted public servants, including senior civil servants and policemen, to publicly exercise a personal right, and thereby inviting only more suspicion of a bias system.
It has paid for political advertising in the MTR, and allowed petition forms to be distributed directly to business and community organisations. It has acted with indifference to the flood of reports of businesses demanding employees to sign their petition, from not only the likes of Nanyang, Chiyu Bank of Communications and Bank of China, but also veritable Hong Kong companies including Henderson Land and Towngas.
In seeking numbers over conviction it has partnered with organisations it has had to remind not to pay cash to signatories. Still the reports come in, with amounts noted in text messages varying from $150 to $400. And when news spreads of the quantity of gifts, from vouchers to an organised “Family Day Out” including free transportation, meals and “activities on Hong Kong island”, Robert Chow can compare such largesse with US anti-war protests of the 1960s. Hippies did not sign petitions just for a free meal. Neither did the organisers have such deep pockets.
Hong Kong has become politicised, but let’s not be blind to who it is carrying politics in to the Hospital Authority and whose petition nightclub patrons are being asked to sign. And if Hong Kong is polarised, let us look to who is asking us to take sides, and who benefits from instability. In troubled times it is strong rather than just leadership that many instinctively turn to. Does only one side represent democracy and peace? Or have these labels been hijacked by those who, in their actions, demonstrate the corruption of power?