Yesterday, the controversial Regina Ip announced her candidacy for a seat in LegCo, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Opposing her is the formidable Anson Chan, dubbed by many as “Hong Kong’s conscience.” The December 2 contest, a by-election, is now called the “Clash of the Titans,” yet it is more important than that. At stake is nothing less than democracy in what is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
“I am now a different Regina Ip from the one before,” the candidate said in making her announcement. That’s good, because few in Hong Kong liked the old one. As the reviled Secretary for Security, she pushed aggressively in 2003 for the adoption of wide-ranging antisubversion legislation known as Article 23. Her hardline tactics triggered a protest of 500,000 citizens and ultimately led to the government’s dropping of the draconian proposal. Ip also made few friends when, arguing against democracy, she said, “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews.” The public reaction to her was so great that she had to resign. Ip then spent three years in Stanford and came back as a self-proclaimed democrat. The candidate began her campaign yesterday by offering “sincere apologies” to the public for making mistakes four years ago in trying to railroad passage of Article 23.
“The by-election has come during a critical stage for democracy,” said Anson Chan earlier this week. There seems to be a consensus in Hong Kong that there should be universal suffrage by 2012, the year of the next election for the chief executive, the city’s top post. Beijing, which has consistently opposed broadening the electorate, is now trying once again to defer the issue.
Both Chan and Ip say they are in favor of 2012. Yet Ip wants universal suffrage only if Chinese leaders concur. She also argues that she will be better able to work with China. She’s undoubtedly correct because it’s clear she has the backing of both the Chinese leadership and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
Today, some argue that the election of Anson Chan will confirm Beijing’s fear that universal suffrage is dangerous because it will only lead to the election of “hostile forces.” Perhaps that is the case, but if pro-democrats are elected then at least China will have to make its position clear. Ip, if chosen, will never force the universal suffrage issue. The people of Hong Kong have a right to know where China stands on the most important issue they face.
Why elect Anson Chan even if she cannot bring about democracy? If for no other reason, then because of the work she will do to expose autocracy.