I wonder if the thousands of protestors who clashed with police here on Sunday realized the irony that it was April Fool’s Day, because a lot of what took place on a lovely cool and crisp bright weekend made Hong Kong look really foolish.
It was the first big demonstration against Leung Chun-ying who was chosen as our next Chief Executive just a week earlier by a 1,193 person Election Committee hand-picked by China.
Organizers claim 15,000 took part, but police said it was one third that size. This is one of the sillier aspects of Hong Kong demonstrations: there’s always a huge discrepancy in the reported turnout, as if the police can make it seem less significant by keeping the count down, and as if organizers can dramatize it by overstating the numbers.
The participants, all 5,000 or 15,000 of them marched from Central to the Chinese government central liaison office. Scuffles broke out when crowds refused to disperse and tried to get closer to the building. Some who tried to break through a police barricade got pepper sprayed.
Pepper spray has become a common dispersant here in the past few years. My friend, democratic activist and legislator Lee Cheuk-yan tells me it’s like rubbing your eyes with freshly chopped red chilies.
Then there was the battle of the placards and banners. “The Death of Democracy!” said one banner. The death of what democracy? We’re only getting started on that.
“Leung Chun Ying Step Down” blared another. But Leung can’t step down, he won’t even take office until July. Dozens of students donned red headscarves trying to emulate Little Red Riding Hood. In the fairy tale, of course, a wolf eats the girl’s grandmother and tries to eat the girl.
Leung Chun-ying has been unflatteringly dubbed Long Chun-ying (Long sounds like the Cantonese word for Wolf). One student said, “We hope the people will not be cheated by the wolf.”
On the other side, police hoisted their own competing banners that proclaimed “Stop Charging or We Use Force.” It was a battle of the violently waved banners and all on April Fool’s Day.
Leung himself apparently took it all in stride. His office released a statement saying Leung “appreciates community concerns” and “will listen humbly to views and consider them seriously.” He went on to say, “I dearly cherish freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law, which are the core values of Hong Kong.”
The right to demonstrate is sacrosanct in Hong Kong, and nobody will deny it. But at some point, people have to wake up to the fact that this is the democratization process in Hong Kong.
There are 5 years till 2017, when the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution, says the Chief Executive will be chosen through universal suffrage. It’s true that what form that takes is still up in the air, but the timetable is enshrined in the Basic Law. Asking CY Leung to step down before he even takes office is like demanding that anarchy prevail.
To the business community, it seemed part of a maturing society. Catherine Leung of Fidelity was nonchalant, “In Hong Kong you do see these uprisings but relative to the rest of the world, they’re generally somewhat tame”.
The clash that started in the afternoon sun gave away to dusk. A hundred or so protestors were still trying to break the police cordon at 9 p.m. But it was getting late. Kids had to be at school the next morning, and mothers and fathers had to go to work. By 10 p.m., the banners were put away, the pepper spray was packed up, and the security rails were being collected. Hong Kong was back to business.