HONG KONG (Reuters) – Support for year-long pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong has waned, now gaining the support of a slim majority, as the city prepares for security legislation report written by Beijing, a survey conducted for Reuters showed.
Protests intensified last June over a bill that has since been withdrawn, which would have allowed the extradition of the accused to mainland China. Later, they turned into pressure 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 alarmed foreign governments and democratic activists in Hong Kong. [nL4N2DY03K]
The survey conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute from June 15 to 18 showed that the legislation is opposed to a majority in the financial center.
But the poll also showed support for declining protests to 51%, down from 58% in a previous poll for Reuters in March, while opposition to them rose to 34% from 28%.
“It can be psychological, because the Hong Kong people see that Beijing is getting tougher,” said Ming Sing, associate professor of social science at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong.
“If you continue to insist (on demands), it’s not practical.”
Events on the ground also indicate a loss of momentum, with most of the protests in the past few weeks numbering only hundreds and ending quickly. Police, citing restrictions on coronaviruses, did not authorize recent rallies and arrested many of those who showed up anyway.
Last week, pro-democracy unions and a group of students failed to get enough support to organize strikes against the security bill.
The shift in support for protests has occurred mainly at the extremes, with those who strongly support it going from 40% to 34% and those who strongly opposing it going from 21% to 28%. The number of those who “somewhat” support or oppose the protests has remained stable.
Special requests from the movement also saw a drop in support. The request for an independent commission of inquiry to examine how the police handled the protests fell 10 percentage points down from March to 66%.
Universal suffrage, another key demand, was supported by 61%, against 68%. The resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was supported by 57% compared to 63% three months ago.
Opposition to requests increased from 15% to 21%.
Samson Yuen, assistant professor in the department of political science at Lingnan University, said support for protesters’ demands was “still high” but could have dropped because security law outstripped protests as the main subject of the public speech.
“Who would still be talking about (protest) requests when the national security law comes in?” Said Yuen.
Lam’s office and the Hong Kong and Macao Chinese Affairs Office, which report 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 interviewed by telephone. The results have been weighted according to the latest population figures.
OBJECTION TO SECURITY LAW
The survey was conducted when Beijing’s intention to introduce legislation against terrorism, subversion, separatism and foreign interference was known, but little details were available.
Although the draft of the new law has not yet been finalized, the main features of the legislation have since been published, revealing that the central authorities of the Communist Party will have global powers over its application, including rights of interpretation. final. [nL4N2DY03K]
The poll showed that 49% of those questioned were strongly opposed to the Beijing decision, 7% opposed “somewhat”. Support for the legislation amounted to 34%, the rest being indifferent or undecided.
“I oppose the law because the government (Beijing) is interfering in the affairs of Hong Kong,” said engineer Charles Lo, 29, who participated in the investigation. “It will also suppress our freedom of expression and hinder the movement for democracy.”
For more comments from respondents, see [nL8N2E106D]
The law raised fears that Beijing would further erode the extended autonomy promised to the territory when Great Britain returned it to China on a “one country, two systems” basis in 1997.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have repeatedly stated that the legislation will 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 of last year, I did not think Hong Kong needed national security laws because we were so peaceful and secure, but now I think it is necessary,” said another respondent to poll, Hui, a retired woman in her fifties.
The poll also showed that support for the idea of Hong Kong’s independence, which is anathema to Beijing and should be a focal point in impending legislation, remained relatively unchanged at 21%. Opposition to the idea went from 60% to 60%.
Compared to the previous survey, fewer respondents mainly blamed local government – 39% versus 43% – or the police – 7% versus 10% – for the current situation in Hong Kong, while more blamed the pro-democracy camp – 18% against 14% – and the central government of Beijing – also 18% against 14%.
Another finding was an increase in support for local pro-Beijing politicians before the September 6 election to the Legislative Council, known as Legco.
Pro-Beijing candidates were supported by 29% of respondents, compared to 22%. Support for pro-democracy politicians remained solid at 53%, but lost 5 points.
A split in lower-level district elections in November allowed the pro-democracy camp to win more than 80% of the seats.