Hong Kong's Democratic Party forced to cancel fundraiser as venue pulls out

Chinese officials are biding their time when it comes to the city's biggest opposition party, commentators say.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin, Ng Ting Hong and Hoi Man Wu for RFA Cantonese
2023.02.23
Hong Kong's Democratic Party forced to cancel fundraiser as venue pulls out The Hong Kong Democratic Party’s annual spring banquet had been planned for Tuesday at the Wealth Banquet restaurant.
Gao Feng

Hong Kong's biggest opposition party has canceled an annual fundraising event after the venue canceled the booking for the third year running, amid an ongoing crackdown on political opposition and peaceful dissent under a draconian national security law.

The 200-seat annual spring banquet gathering had been slated for Tuesday night, but the restaurant, Wealth Banquet in Kwai Fong district, canceled the booking at the last minute, saying it had to close for "urgent" repairs to its gas supply.

The move came after separate venues canceled the Democratic Party's bookings for the past two years running – the party's last annual dinner took place in 2020, before a primary election that led to the arrests of dozens of former opposition politicians and activists for "subversion" under the national security law.

Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei told journalists that the repeated cancellations by venues were unlikely to be a coincidence, but more likely due to someone warning them off under the threat of the national security law.

"So many coincidences," Lo told reporters on Wednesday. "Repeated and sudden inability to provide a venue."

"Anyone with a discerning eye knows what's going on here," he said. "Is this atmosphere [of fear] a good thing for [Hong Kong]?"

"All we wanted to do was eat together – it was just a meal."

No hurry to kill off party

The Democratic Party, once the main bastion of pro-democracy politics in the Legislative and District Councils, boycotted the December 2021 Legislative Council elections after the government changed electoral rules to ensure that only candidates loyal to Beijing could run.

The ongoing crackdown on the 2019 protest movement, which called for fully democratic elections but instead was rewarded with a reworked system in which the legislature is stacked with supporters of the government, has seen dozens of former lawmakers and councilors jailed for "illegal assembly," or tried under the national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party from July 1, 2020.

"All we wanted to do was eat together – it was just a meal," says Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei, shown at a 2021 press conference in Hong Kong. Credit: Associated Press
"All we wanted to do was eat together – it was just a meal," says Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei, shown at a 2021 press conference in Hong Kong. Credit: Associated Press
Political commentator Derek Yuen said the election boycott had angered officials, who now want to see the party neutralized entirely.

"They are very angry at their tone, which seems to take the view that they may or may not field candidates at any time," Yuen said. "Beijing thinks the Democratic Party should no longer get to decide this for itself."

"They won't allow them to ... raise money unless they take the initiative to seek the favor of Beijing or the Hong Kong government."

Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said Beijing is in no hurry to kill the party off entirely, however.

"Beijing certainly doesn't see the Democratic Party as a friend, but it won't move to kill it off for the time being," Lau said.

"It will rather be allowed to remain as an empty husk of its former self, as a group that doesn't actually do anything," he said. "They will probably take precautionary measures against it in future."

National security trial

Another pro-democracy party, the League of Social Democrats, also had a venue in Mong Kok district cancel one of its events in August 2022.

Party members said at the time that they couldn't rule out the possibility that "powerful departments" had put pressure on the venue behind the scenes.

The national security trial of 47 former opposition politicians and activists entered its 13th day at the West Kowloon Magistrates Court, which has been pressed into service as a temporary High Court during the crackdown.

Prosecutors presented evidence that the organizers of the democratic primary election in the summer of 2020 – including Occupy Central co-founder and former law professor Benny Tai – had deliberately "conspired" to achieve a majority of opposition seats in the Legislative Council by fielding the most popular candidates for each seat, with the aim of voting down the government's annual budget.

They cited Tai's goal of 12 seats in the New Territories' East and West voting districts, four each in Kowloon West and Hong Kong Island and three in Kowloon East as evidence of the "conspiracy."

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee tweeted as the trial opened on Feb. 6: "Today, #HongKong begins a sham trial against 47 pro-democracy leaders who planned to run for political seats."

"This charade illustrates #China’s destruction of the rule of law and how afraid it is of different opinions. The U.S. will continue to support these freedom fighters," the tweet said.


Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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