With less than two weeks to go, Hong Kong is gripped by an unusually colorful brawl for its top political job – but if you lived just across the border, you might not know it. Though Beijing finds both the city’s two frontrunners acceptable, it doesn’t like the unfolding battle of campaign smears, scandals and public criticism, and appears to be silencing reports on the mainland. Media outlets should refrain from “reporting, hyping or discussing” Hong Kong’s Chief Executive election, China’s Central Propaganda Department said last week during the National People’s Congress according to a directive posted (in Chinese) on University of California, Berkeley-based blog China Digital Times. Anything that needs reporting, the directive declared, “must be approved by the Office of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs.”
The directive stands in sharp contrast to how avidly mainland residents were allowed to follow Taiwan’s election earlier this year. Then, top Chinese-language media portals, including Sina and Sohu, were running special sections dedicated to the island’s elections, even offering live broadcast of the election debates. This time around, conversation on social media sites is considerably more muted.
Still, a number have got wind of the drama, and not all are impressed with the city’s fledgling exercise in electoral politics. “This year’s election in Hong Kong is simply a television drama,”opined one user on Weibo, Sina’s Twitter-like social media site. In recent months, former financial secretary Henry Tang – who had widely been seen as Beijing’s favored candidate – has been caught in the fallout following the exposure of his extramarital affair and an illegally constructed basement add-on, to name just a couple scandals.