Or as MinCat put it, “turning and turning in the widening gyre.”
On Monday, we woke up to the news that National People’s Congress Standing Committee had taken it upon itself to interpret a provision in Hong Kong’s Basic Law (the mini constitution that preserves Hong Kong’s autonomy as a special administrative region of China, and basically guards the freedoms we enjoy here) to bar a couple of newly elected legislators from retaking their oaths of office. The two youngsters had to retake their oaths because the first time around they used the derogatory word Chee-na (used by the Japanese to denigrate China during the Japanese occupation) among other shenanigans. They also somewhat openly advocate independence for Hong Kong, which is a big no-no for China obviously. Their oaths were declared illegal by the Legislative (Legco) President and they were supposed to retake them, when the Government of Hong Kong swooped in and launched a judicial review to determine whether it was legal for them to retake their oaths. The Legco President then caved and decided they can’t take their oaths after all. Before the courts could decide, however, the NPC Standing Committee held a meeting, and basically interpreted the law, as a guide to the courts.
Their interpretation went beyond mere ‘interpretation’ and included granting the official who administers the oaths the right to disqualify candidates who would not be allowed to retake their oaths, even though they have been democratically elected by a huge number of Hongkongers. Mysteriously, this interpretations is supposed to apply retrospectively to the concerned lawmakers and now the net has widened to disqualify more people, but not pro-establishment lawmakers who also fumbled their oaths.
The chilling thing about this is the ‘guideline’ to the courts while the matter is subjudice. It displays a disregard for the authority for the courts, which would not be surprising in Mainland China but we have always believed that in Hong Kong things are different. The NPC has reserved the rights to interpret laws but in the past it has done so at the behest of the chief executive and the courts (the latter is actually supposed to be requester according to the law, but obviously the NPC would be happy to intervene wherever possible). This article lists the five times the NPC has interpreted the law and frankly, I’d have been terrified the very first time (but Hongkongers were happy with the outcome that time, the problem is you can’t have it both ways.).
This time, though, the suo moto manner in which it was done is chilling. It was also done in a climate in which people are already rattled about the abduction of five booksellers across the border. The provocation was the thinly veiled pro-independence views of the lawmakers, but now the writing on the wall is clear, and sure enough we are hearing that moves that Article 23, an anti-subversion law that will bar protests, needs to be implemented soon (something that no politician dared raise because of the ire among the public it elicited the last time such a proposal was made).
When I read the new of the NPC ruling, it was like a death knell sounded in my head. The bookseller saga already told us that if we got on the wrong side of China, thugs could actually sneak us across the border and no consulate in the world could rescue us. Now, Beijing has made clear that even Hong Kong law and Hong Kong courts are subject to its whims and fancies, when earlier its stance was non-interference.
In the face of all this, one can only feel helpless because even as young people take to the streets to protest, they are nothing before the might of the Chinese government, whose authority in the world is now unchecked.
Then our dear Prime Minister Modi decided to ban Rs500 and Rs1000 notes. Well, I must admit it did some like a bold move, that would anger some of Modi’s support base. But overall, it was a stroke of genius because the middle class is lauding Modi. Instead of bringing the money from Swiss banks accounts as he promised, he has done abracadabra and turned black to white. Except it’s not going to work, as past experience has shown (interestingly none of the media outlets put this move in context – that is has been done in the past and did not work.). Now, of course, the poor are bearing the brunt as usual. You’d think that even if the PM was determined to push forth with it and give some middle wealthy people a big surprise, he’d make more of an effort to provide relief to the very many poor people who trade only in cash. Here’s just one example of how this abrupt change has affect the less privileged.
And then as the final blow, Trump got elected. I can’t say I was surprised, because the dear husband watched Fox News non-stop during this election (for entertained me claimed, but it did put a strain on our marital relations). So I did not, despite my best efforts, live in a bubble in which reason would prevail. Nevertheless, I thought Hillary would win and I wanted her to win, and although I had checked out of the noise of the election a long time ago, I was surprised at how sad I was when I realised she had lost.
I wanted Hillary to win because yes, just as Obama becoming the first black president of the US thrilled me, I like the idea of a woman in highest office. I think the role of President is symbolic and I saw the powerful symbolic work of Obama’s presidency (despite his failings in some areas). And I thought Hillary was a good woman for the job. Yes, she was establishment, but I didn’t mind that too much. Seeing how hard Obama struggled to get anything done, maybe it was time for someone who knew the drill and had the connections.
I admire Hillary for the sheer hard work she put in, and for how she had risen from the ashes of her husband’s indiscretion (even though I do not like how Monica Lewinsky was treated during that episode). Hillary is the geek who kept putting her hand up no matter how many times people sneered at her, and finally, she got her seat at the highest table. She faced misogyny the first time around, and the full force of it this time. I like how she accepted defeat the last time around and did her best as Secretary of State. I like how in her previous avatar as First Lady, she spoke truth to power about women’s rights in Beijing, and how she did it again when the Feminist Five were detained. Whenever I watched her handle questions on the campaign, it was clear she knew her stuff and she had real ideas and proposals. A few weeks before the election, I heard a clip of her pledging her support for women’s right to have an abortion, even though this is a hot potato, and I silently thanked her for that. She is not perfect, but she was held up to higher standards of ‘cleanliness’ than a man would have been (considering her opponent refused to even release his tax records) .The accusation that she is not ‘likeable’, which so many women in power face. She acknowledged she struggles with that part of politics, but she faced the backlash so much stronger.
It is hard not to take this somewhat personally as a woman, although I know that her being seeing as ‘establishment’ has something to do with it. I don’t grudge the strugglign masses their vote for Donald Trump, but its the educated and elite fence-sitters who gloated after Hillary lost that I have no respect for.
I belatedly came across this article yesterday as I tried to stabilize my mood. I wish more people could have seen it before the election.