There are few stronger critics of mainland Chinese rule in Hong Kong than building contractor-turned-politician Tsang “The Bull” Kin-shing (曾健成), who is running for parliament in today’s elections.
His anti-regime activism has earned him a ban from entering the mainland, and he is campaigning for a seat in Hong Kong’s legislative assembly on a staunchly anti-communist, pro-democracy platform.
However, the barrel-chested 56-year-old sees no contradiction between his political views and his mission last month to claim disputed islands in the East China Sea for China.
The stunt made Tsang and his group national celebrities as images of them dodging Japanese Coast Guard vessels and flying the Chinese flag on the rocky shore were beamed around the world.
The attention sits uncomfortably on Tsang’s broad shoulders, as he says that his trip was in no way an endorsement of China’s communist regime.
“I don’t see myself as a hero,” he says. “The real heroes are [Chinese dissidents] Li Wangyang (李旺陽), Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) and Tan Zuoren (譚作人), who continue to fight under the oppressive communist regime. We love the country, but that doesn’t mean we love the Communist Party. Communist rule is like a leash — it suppresses everyone, physically and mentally.”
Tsang is running for parliament on the ticket of the radical pro-democracy League of Social Democrats, led by outspoken anti-Beijing activist and lawmaker Leung “Long Hair” Kwok-hung (梁國雄).
Surveys conducted for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs show Hong Kongers are more dissatisfied with the Chinese Communist Party’s performance in ruling China than at any time since Britain relinquished control of its former colony in 1997.
However, this may not translate into electoral success for anti-Beijing candidates like Tsang, thanks to the elaborate voting system put in place after the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Only 40 of the 70 seats in the new legislature will be directly elected. The rest are selected by relatively small groups of delegates grouped according to professions and dominated by pro-Beijing elites.
Beijing has promised universal suffrage for leadership elections in 2017 and for the legislature in 2020, but democrats fear it intends to screen the candidates.
Pro-democracy parties will have to hold the 23 seats they currently have, and win one more to ensure they can veto any proposed constitutional reforms during the crucial debate to come about universal suffrage.
“Rotten grass grows in filthy pits,” Tsang says, quoting a Cantonese proverb. “If the government isn’t elected by the people, it won’t listen to the people’s voice. What we want is to end this one-party rule and have a democratically elected government.”