HONG KONG (Reuters) – Support for Hong Kong’s year-long pro-democracy protests has waned, now backed by a slim majority, as the city prepares for the imposition of national security legislation drafted by Beijing, a poll conducted for Reuters showed.
FILE PHOTO: A pro-democracy protester holds a flag supporting Hong Kong’s independence during a protest to mark the first anniversary of a mass demonstration against the now-withdrawn extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China, 9 June 2020. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu
Protests escalated last June over a withdrawn bill that would have allowed the extradition of defendants to mainland China. They later became an impetus for greater democracy, often involving violent clashes with the police.
Protests have resumed, but with far fewer participants, since China announced plans for the security law, which has alarmed foreign governments and democracy activists in Hong Kong. [nL4N2DY03K]
The survey conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion Research from June 15 to 18 showed that the legislation opposes a majority in the financial center.
But the poll also showed that support for the protests fell to 51% from 58% in a previous poll by Reuters in March, while opposition to them rose to 34% from 28%.
“It may be psychological, because the people of Hong Kong see that Beijing is getting tougher,” said Ming Sing, an associate professor of social sciences at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
“If you keep insisting (on the demands) it’s not practical.”
The events on the ground also point to a loss of momentum, with most demonstrations in the past few weeks attended by only hundreds and ending quickly. Police, citing coronavirus restrictions, have not recently given permission for protests and have arrested large numbers of those who showed up anyway.
Last week, unions and a pro-democracy student group failed to gain enough support to strike against the proposed security legislation.
The shift in support for the protests has occurred mainly at the extremes, with those who support them falling to 34% from 40% and those who strongly oppose them to 28% from 21%. The number of those who support “something” or oppose the protests remained stable.
The movement’s particular demands have also seen a drop in support. The request by an independent commission of inquiry to analyze how the police handled the protests saw a 10 percentage point drop from March to 66%.
Universal suffrage, another key demand, was backed by 61%, up from 68%. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s resignation was supported by 57% compared to 63% three months ago.
Opposition to the lawsuits increased from 21% to 21%.
Samson Yuen, an assistant professor in the department of political science at Lingnan University, said support for the protesters’ demands was “still high,” but it could have fallen because the security law has overtaken the protests as the main issue. in public discourse.
“Who would talk about the (protest) demands when the national security law arrives?” Yuen said.
Lam’s office and China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, which reports to the State Council or cabinet, did not respond to requests for comment.
For the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 1,002 respondents were randomly surveyed by phone. The results were weighted according to the latest population figures.
OPPOSITION TO THE SECURITY LAW
The survey was conducted when Beijing’s intention to introduce legislation against terrorism, subversion, separatism and foreign interference was known, but few details were available.
While the draft of the new law has yet to be finalized, key features of the legislation have since been released, revealing that the central authorities of the Communist Party will have general powers over its application, including final interpretation rights. [nL4N2DY03K]
The survey showed that 49% of respondents strongly opposed the Beijing measure, and 7% “somewhat” opposed. Support for the legislation added up to 34%, with the rest indifferent or undecided.
“I oppose the law because the (Beijing) government is interfering in Hong Kong’s business,” said engineer Charles Lo, 29, who participated in the survey. “It will also suppress our freedom of expression and hinder the democratic movement.”
For more comments from respondents see [nL8N2E106D]
The law has fueled fears that Beijing is further eroding the extensive autonomy promised to the territory when Britain returned it to China under a “one country, two systems” formula in 1997.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have repeatedly said that the legislation would only target a small number of “troublemakers”, while preserving rights and freedoms. They say it will bring stability to a city shaken by protests.
“Before June last year, I did not believe Hong Kong needed national security laws because we were so peaceful and secure, but now I think it is necessary,” said another respondent, Hui, a 50-year-old retiree.
The poll also showed that support for Hong Kong’s idea of independence, which is anathema to Beijing and expected to be a focal point in the upcoming legislation, remained relatively unchanged at 21%. Opposition to the idea grew from 60% to 60%.
Compared to the previous survey, fewer respondents mainly blamed the local government – 39% vs. 43% – or the police – 7% vs. 10% – for the current state of affairs in Hong Kong, while more blamed the countryside pro-democratic – 18% vs. 14% – and the central government in Beijing – also 18% vs. 14%.
Another finding was an increase in support for local pro-Beijing politicians ahead of the September 6 election for the Legislative Council, known as Legco.
Candidates for Beijing received the support of 29% of the respondents, compared to 22%. Support for pro-democracy politicians remained strong at 53%, but fell 5 points.
A split in the lower-level district elections in November resulted in the pro-democracy field winning more than 80% of the seats.
Reports by Carol Mang, Yanni Chow, Clare Jim and Marius Zaharia; Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Kim Coghill