Politician has ear bitten off but keeps on hustling votes in Hong Kong
Andrew Chiu is a bit wobbly as he greets passersby on a busy Hong Kong street, asking them for support in Sunday’s local elections.
The pro-democracy district councillor stands out because of the large white bandage that is taped to the side of his head. The left arm of his eyeglasses dangles in the air where his ear used to be.
He lost it earlier this month, when an attacker bit it off. Witnesses say Chiu was grabbed as he tried to stop a man who had wounded two people with a knife outside a mall. They say the attacker had told his victims that Hong Kong belongs to China. The unidentified man was later reportedly arrested.
Doctors reattached Chiu’s ear, but the damage was too great and he eventually lost it.
It’s one of several violent acts against politicians in the run-up to these contentious local elections.
“The coming Sunday vote is very important because of the power of the Hong Kong people to express our anger to the government,” he told CBC news.
And there’s a lot of anger here.
It was seen most recently in lengthy running street battles, which left some of the city’s prestigious universities damaged, and others shuttered.
Earlier this year, public marches drew more than a million people into the street in mass anti-government rallies.
Molotov cocktails, even arrows, were launched at police, and life in many parts of the special administrative region of seven million people has been seriously disrupted. The economy is now officially in recession.
The spark for the protest movement was an extradition bill allowing people to be more easily sent back to mainland China. Many here saw it as the long arm of Beijing trying to exert ever more control over the region’s semi-autonomous government and courts.
One key issue is greater accountability for the 31,000 strong police force, accused of frequently using excessive force against protesters.
Public opinion polls and conversations on the streets reveal widening distrust between the population and the officers who are supposed to be protecting them. Amnesty for those arrested is another demand on the list, as is a halt to categorizing the protests as riots. Universal suffrage is another key demand.
Susan Henders, a political scientist who teaches at York University in Toronto, is currently in Hong Kong doing research.
Election seen as test for local government
“This election is widely seen as a referendum on the government and particularly how it’s conducted itself in recent months,” she said in an interview.
Sunday’s vote is for hundreds of elected positions on what’s known as District Councils.
There are 1,090 candidates vying for 452 seats. In the 2015 elections, 298 out of 431 seats were won by the pro-establishment camp while the pan-democrats took 126. Seven went to independent candidates.
The 18 separate councils are similar to municipal governments in Canada. They focus on roads, infrastructure, parks and recreation and other local issues.
In other words, the councils don’t have the legal power to address the human rights and major legal issues the pro-democracy camp is fighting for.
However, this is the first election since widespread protests broke out in June, and the vote could send a powerful message to both the higher level of government in Hong Kong, known as the Legislative Council, and to Beijing, which exerts great influence over that body.
With that in mind, reform minded, pro-democracy forces recruited new candidates intent on disrupting the status quo at the District Council level.
Henders said these elections are one more outlet for an increasingly restless population.
“The government has not offered a political way forward, and instead relied on policing, and policing authorized, it would appear, to use very aggressive means.”
She says Canadians should be paying attention, because there are 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong.
“Canadians back in Canada should be concerned about their well-being and their rights and freedoms.”
She and many others here will be watching election results closely, as will the Chinese government’s leadership in Beijing.