Editorial | Deafening silence

Paulo Coutinho

Over 2.9 million people of Hong Kong cast their vote in Sunday’s district council elections, the highest turnout ever in the sister SAR’s history – in any poll. And some 58% voted for the pan-democratic camp in what was seen as a massive show of support for the pro-democracy months-long movement, shattering the theory of a “silent majority” opposing the protests.
The district council members have little power in the city – they deal with traffic issues and other day-to-day annoyances, but this time it was not only about that.
This time, these elections, with origins dating back to 1982, were a real expression of the reigning discontent in Hong Kong with its governance, which has its most recent roots in the Occupy Central and Umbrella movements of 2014.
For six months this year, the demonstrations and the protests drove the city almost to a standstill, affecting the daily life of residents and tourists – the metropolitan network, the airport, roads, public or private buildings, and schools, were occupied and deranged or even shut down at times while crowds clashed with police forces to a point of chaos in this master call for full democracy.
What started as a protest for the withdrawal of an extradition bill, which was seen by the majority in HK as a tool to control dissent or inconvenient voices, turned out to be a massive demand for the city’s authorities to introduce universal suffrage in the elections for the Chief Executive (CE) and for the Legislative Council (LegCo) – a promise made in the Basic Law of Hong Kong, specifically in the annexes I and II dealing with the processes to choose the holders of executive and legislative powers.
As law professor António Katchi explained in a debate held by TDM earlier this week, the HK government has the constitutional right to draft laws to democratically elect the members of LegCo and the Chief Executive, even as the latter would require ratification by the NPC’s Standing Committee. This would be “the sensible path to follow” to meet the expectations of the people of Hong Kong and end the protests, he said.
In any case, the initiative of change by formal political means, within the framework of the Basic Law, is at the will of the Chief Executive (and the establishment that supports it). If they do nothing, nothing would eventually change – at least peacefully.
The people of Hong Kong deserve better. They have stated over these six months, and with the outcome of the Sunday’s vote, that they want universal suffrage for both elections – and full democracy.
So far, neither Carrie Lam, nor the Central Government have shown willingness to listen to this deafening call.

[Updated the pan-democratic percentage of votes]
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