The police report refers to it simply as “the Scheme.” It was, in law enforcement’s telling, a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing Hong Kong’s government. For seven months, an eclectic array of prodemocracy activists and political hopefuls held meetings, raised funds, and gave media interviews in preparation for an unofficial primary election. One of them, the police report states, went so far as to locate “appropriate venues for polling stations.” The winners of that contest would then run in the city’s legislative-council elections with the explicit goal of gaining a “controlling majority” of seats. Once they accomplished that, the new lawmakers would use their positions to vote against the sitting government’s agenda, including the budget, in an effort to carry out their own political goals, with a mandate from those who voted for them.
It sounds a lot like a simple exercise in democracy. That’s because it was. The transgressions listed appear to be the type of banal shoe-leather politicking that goes into running a local campaign. That’s because they were.
More than 600,000 people voted in Hong Kong’s primary over the course of an oppressively humid weekend in mid-July, far exceeding the organizers’ estimated turnout of 170,000. Shortly thereafter, the warnings came, as Beijing declared the process a “provocation” and “revolution.” Officials in Hong Kong began disqualifying winning candidates from competing in the legislative-council elections, which had been scheduled for September but two weeks after the primary were postponed for a year, ostensibly because of the pandemic. In the months that followed, efforts to eliminate Hong Kong’s opposition and break the city’s democratic spirit continued without pause.