Hong Kong is letting its democracy dream slip away The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Democracy Index 2018 sees the city drops two places from 71st to 73rd out of 167 countries.
The democracy ranking came as the Hong Kong government is clamping down on calls for the city’s independence – or any slight hint of it.
Slap ‘em down
Mr Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director of Asia at the EIU, cites the government’s move to ban the Hong Kong National Party and the election commission’s more aggressive screening and elimination of candidates based on their assumed support for greater autonomy or independence.
“[These events] represent major regressive steps for Hong Kong’s democracy in the last year,” Mr Innes-Ker when explaining why Hong Kong’s ranking dropped.
Last July, the government used Article 8 of the Societies Ordinance as a reason to ban the pro-independence political party, saying it is against national security and public safety.
Can’t play the game
Last year also saw other three candidates barred from running for office in LegCo and local councils.
Ms Lau Siu-lai, an ousted lawmaker, and Ms Anges Chow, of the political party Demosisto, were barred from LegCo by-election by the Electoral Affairs Commission due to their calls for self-determination for Hong Kong.
And before 2018 ended, lawmaker Mr Eddie Chu was disqualified from running in village election, after electoral officials twice questioned his stance on Hong Kong’s independence and self-determination.
These incidents prompted the EIU to give Hong Kong poor scores particularly in electoral process and pluralism and political participation, which stand at 3.08 and 5.56 respectively out of 10.
How democracy works
“The freedom to hold political beliefs that challenge the existing constitution, and to run for office while championing those beliefs, is an important part of a functioning democracy,” Mr Innes-Ker says.
“Voters must have channels through which they can seek to change established systems of politics and governance, otherwise voting becomes an empty exercise and the structures of government can become outdated,” he adds.
He notes that by excluding those who disagree with it from the political process, the government is undermining pluralism.
“The direction of travel for Hong Kong’s democracy is clearly not great at the moment,” Mr Innes-Ker says.
He cites growing disquiet among the local population at the way that the space for freedom of political expression under the “one country two systems” formula has narrowed in recent years.
Local speaks global
His view is shared by Mr Law Yuk-kai director of local NGO Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM). The group is in touch with the UN Human Rights Council to tell the international community the situation in Hong Kong.
“If a candidate is said to be embracing political views that are against the constitution, the government should resort to legal means rather than administrative measures to disqualify him/her,” Mr Law says, citing the events Mr Innes-Ker mentions.
As for the future, Mr Law says a status quo is expected. “The political activists now go two ways – either being discouraged or radical. But however radical they are, there’s no space for them in the political system,” he notes.
Last year, the U.S. and the UK made statements on Hong Kong’s deteriorating autonomy. But Mr Law says the attention from international community came “too slow and too late”.
“I hope the UN will watch closely and raise more concerns on Hong Kong’s democratic development. It has been receptive to the opinions from the NGOs,” he says.
According to the EIU, the most democratic country in Asia is South Korea (21st), followed by Japan (22nd), Taiwan (32nd) and India (41st). Singapore is placed 66th and China remains at the bottom at 130th.
Unsurprisingly, North Korea remains the world’s least democratic country, while Norway tops the global list.