The Civic Exchange-Hong Kong Transition Project's survey results from early August recorded a sharp upturn in public protests over the past year. It noted that people increasingly adopted informal means of showing unhappiness with Hong Kong's government because they didn't think formal channels were sufficient. People began taking matters into their own hands by attending rallies, signing petitions and donating to political parties and activist groups in unprecedented numbers.
The survey also showed that although China's government ruled out universal suffrage in the 2007 and 2008 elections, over 40 percent of respondents still wanted democracy by then, with nearly 20 percent more wanting it by the next round of elections in 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, the majority did not think democratization would hurt the economy, although there were clear concerns that political instability could arise from China's intervention in Hong Kong affairs.
China's government may well adopt a new Hong Kong policy after the election. The best case would be if China agreed to universal suffrage no later than the 2011 and 2012 elections, gaining legitimacy in Hong Kong by backing reform of the political system. While China's rulers may fear losing control, they also need to recognize that the current system is causing intense discontent.
The worst case would be if China disregarded a decisive pro-democracy win in 2007 and 2008 and continued to insist that Hong Kong's people were unready for democracy or to allege foreign manipulation of the pro-democracy camp. Hong Kong's people may well conclude that they have no alternative but to use every occasion to protest chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's unpopular government, making it even harder for him to govern.
Christine Loh was a member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council. copyright: project syndicate