Divisions Grow Among Hong Kong Students After Pro-Democracy Movement

2015-02-17
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The Occupy Central movement enters its 68th day in Hong Kong, Dec. 4, 2014.
The Occupy Central movement enters its 68th day in Hong Kong, Dec. 4, 2014.
RFA

The withdrawal of the student union of the University of Hong Kong from the city's Federation of Students has sparked a wave of campaigns on social media for similar moves in the territory's remaining universities, student leaders said on Tuesday.

Voters in a referendum at the university voted last week to leave the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which played a leading role in the 79-day Occupy Central pro-democracy movement last year, by 2,522 votes to 2,278, with 1,293 abstentions. Turnout was 39 percent, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

Since then, a number of Facebook pages have sprung up to campaign for students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the University of Science and Technology, Lingnan University, City University and the Baptist University to make similar moves.

The apparent splintering of the student movement comes amid growing concern over Beijing-inspired interference by the government in the politics of the city's universities.

Many of the comments cite dissatisfaction with the federation's role in the Occupy Central, or Umbrella Movement.

"Of course this is a blow for the federation, and it reflects a lack of trust among students in the federation," Joshua Wong, who heads the academic activist group Scholarism, and who played a key role in the occupation of major highways in the city last year, told RFA on Tuesday.

"We should spend more time in future explaining the actions of the federation to every student at Hong Kong's universities and technical institutions," he said.

"We have to face up squarely to this problem...to avoid such things from happening in future."

Wong said many students are angry that the federation's bid to win concessions on universal suffrage in 2017 elections for the next chief executive by surrounding central government headquarters had come to nothing.

Other universities plan votes

Students at Lingnan University announced last week that they will also hold a similar referendum of their union members next month, although sources told RFA that turnover is likely to be low.

Meanwhile, students at the Chinese University have called on the Hong Kong Federation of Students to reform the way it elects its leaders.

If the voting system isn't changed to a one-person, one-vote poll involving all Hong Kong students, the Chinese University will also stage a referendum on withdrawal, the students warned.

Last week, pan-democratic lawmakers called for an official inquiry amid reports that Hong Kong's embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung interfered to prevent the appointment of a pro-democracy candidate for the job of pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Hong Kong.

The reported interference appeared to be aimed at ensuring that law professor and democracy activist Johannes Chan, who is among the candidates for the post, didn't get the job.

Local media reports have accused Leung, or his officials, of telling members of the university's council not to elect Chan, who is a member of the Hong Kong 2020 group campaigning for greater democracy. Leung has denied any direct intervention.

Aug 31 decree reverberates

According to an Aug. 31 framework laid out by Beijing's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), only candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing committee will be allowed to run for the territory's top executive post in 2017, although all five million eligible voters will get a vote.

Occupy Central campaigners, many of whom are students, and pan-democratic politicians have dismissed the plan as "fake universal suffrage," because pan-democratic candidates are unlikely to be selected for the race to lead the former British colony.

Pan-democratic lawmakers have threatened to veto the government's electoral reform bill in LegCo in a bid to win further concessions on universal suffrage, although the government has ruled out any such deals.

As the government carries out a second round of public consultations on Beijing's electoral reform plan, an opinion survey carried out by the pollster-led Civil Society Joint Action group said the Occupy protests had worsened trust and communication between Leung's administration and the Hong Kong people.

The group published their findings, which ran to dozens of closely typed pages, on Tuesday, saying it would give a better idea of public reaction to Beijing's reform plan than the government's own report sent last August.

It called on the government to strengthen cooperation with civil groups and improve communication with citizens, and to seek consensus during its current consultation.

"The views of citizens on the pace of reform are very divided, and the government's consultation methods have served not to bring them closer together, but to make the divisions more acute," the group said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

"The degree of social participation and openness and transparency should be...increased dramatically," the statement said.

Referendum demand

The survey follows another public opinion survey carried out by pan-democratic lawmakers, which called on the government to allow a city-wide referendum on the reform package.

"The Chinese Communist Party is afraid even of a referendum, so scared is it to face up to the true opinions of the people," Civic Party leader Alan Leong told RFA on Monday.

"Why would they fear it, if they believe that their ideas have the support of the majority of Hong Kong people?"

Amid growing concern over attacks on Hong Kong's press freedom, journalists hit out at recent criticisms of government broadcaster RTHK by pro-China politicians, who said it should toe the official line more often.

Hong Kong Journalists' Association spokeswoman Shum Yee-lan said the station was simply holding to its principle of editorial independence.

"These pro-establishment politicians have been strongly critical of RTHK's programming, but it is crucial that they maintain their independent stance," Shum told RFA.

"They're not the mouthpiece of the Hong Kong government, nor are they are government news service," she said. "Maybe they were unhappy about some of the recent headlines talking about satirical humor directed at the chief executive."

Reported by Lin Jing and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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