Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 157, 9 September 2020

Hong Kong: Return of the protests, as the administration decides to postpone the election
Harini Madhusudan

In the news 
On 6 September, the people of Hong Kong, took to the streets to participate in a rally over the delay in holding the legislative council elections. The Hong Kong government in July, announced the postponement of the elections by one year, citing COVID as the reason. Hundreds of protestors staged a demonstration against, 'unjustified infringement on voting rights,' by the administration. The government stationed up to 2000 police officers, and around 280 people were arrested on the day of which 270 were charged with illegal assembly. 

On 6 September again, there was another protest. It was an online protest. #BoycottMulan was endorsed by Joshua Wong, which gained momentum across Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand, over the comments that Liu Yifei made in 2019, in support of the Hong Kong Police. 

Issues in the background
First, COVID as the reason. Under the law in Hong Kong, the elections can be postponed by up to 14 days, only in the likeliness of "any danger to public health or safety." On 31 July, at a time when the daily increase in cases had broken into triple digits for two weeks then, Carrie Lam postponed the elections by a year. Many called the long delay unjustified and unconvincing. Lam was seen admitting that there was no consultation with medical advisors before the announcement. In a sense, the postponement can be associated with the need to get Hong Kong under control, and the pandemic became an easy excuse. On the other side, the protestors, activists are also seen making good use of the situation to further their cause. 

Second, the protests appear muted after the Security bill. The plan to hold demonstrations was not authorized by the government. However, the protesters went ahead despite warnings from the government. The fear of the security bill has led people to remove protest materials from their stores, observe self-censorship, or rethink the idea of joining demonstrations. With a change in the legal landscape, the pro-democracy movement can be seen as losing its popularity among the masses. 

In perspective 
The impact of the security bill is reflected on both sides, which has widened the gap between the government and the protesters. The police are known to be consciously turning a blind eye to the multiple, unauthorized small protests in the city. Both sides are looking towards hardening their stance. The postponement of the elections seen combined with the disqualification of a dozen democracy candidates from contesting the elections indicates that there is no scope for reaching a middle ground anymore. Though the boycott of the movie Mulan cannot be seen in relation to the pro-democracy movement, the timing of the release could be used as a catapult for the cause against the election postponement. 

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