“One Country, Two Systems?” Democracy Endangered in Hong Kong

by: Andrea Lo

July 17, 2012

A new executive leader for Hong Kong was sworn in earlier this month on July 1st, coinciding with the anniversary of its transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China in 1997. An event that has engulfed the city’s government in an unprecedented credibility crisis, Chun-Ying Leung’s leadership has in turn caused many to question whether democracy is becoming an eroding principle in the former British colony.

Democracy Endangered in Hong Kong

Prior to the inauguration, widespread dissatisfaction of Leung had already begun to grip the region. Having been elected in March by a select committee of 1,200 – the majority of whom were business elites or associates of the Mainland Chinese government, leaving no say for Hong Kong’s voters – the public immediately became apprehensive towards the executive-elect. Specifically, his abilities to sustain the democratic structure of Hong Kong, as well as to remain non-partisan as its leader have been questioned. Whispers of Leung’s alleged affiliations with the Chinese Communist Party as a result of his long-standing post as a consultant to the Mainland government, in particular, became a damning factor for the new leader. In keeping with the tradition of politically motivated marches being carried out every July 1st, the discontent finally reached a crescendo on the day of the inaugural ceremony, where tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against Leung, in addition to voicing growing concerns over Hong Kong’s democratic direction.

Democracy Endangered in Hong Kong

The public were proved correct in their unease for the chief executive-elect, as thus far Leung’s administration has been plagued with controversies, while local media outlets have gone as far as to say it is fast becoming a full-blown “governance crisis.” The media has raised questions over the integrity of Leung and his government, with news emerging this week of tax evasions, conflicts of interest, as well as abuse of civil services involving key ministerial personnel; other negative reports such as “illegal structures” purportedly found at Leung’s own luxury townhouse have also served to further undermine the government’s authority and credibility.

Hong Kong’s stern democratic structure has long been a pride of the semi-autonomous region, with the promise of it being ruled under the motto of “one country, two systems” adopted after the 1997 handover. However, Beijing’s growing influence – itself reflected through the unconstitutional process in electing Leung – has become a tremendous threat for democracy and equality. Under such circumstances faced by Hong Kong today, combined with the complex nature of “one country, two systems” itself, Leung must tackle the challenge of satisfying the Mainland government whilst also fulfilling his duties of serving the citizens of Hong Kong. Whether Leung will uphold democratic standards and maintain his administration with authority, however, remains to be seen.

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