Democracy in action, from Hong Kong to Switzerland

Reports estimated that almost two million (one-quarter of the population) turned out for protests in Hong Kong last weekend. Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Our democracy team examines protests in Hong Kong, strikes in Switzerland and the latest in politics by the people.

This content was published on June 19, 2019 - 11:22

In the Western imagination, Hong Kong often conjures images of skyscrapers, financial services, and colonial history. In recent weeks, it’s been in the news for different reasons, as millions of citizens protested a (currently suspended) new extradition law.

In Switzerland, newspapers wrote plenty of editorials about the problematic erosion of rights in Hong Kong – see for example this commentary from the NZZExternal link (in German) – but the Swiss government stuck to its usual ‘pro-democracy, but softly’ approach.

External Content

We asked the foreign ministry for a statement on what’s happening in the former British colony, and after talking about the importance of “stability” for business there (including Swiss companies, of course), it wrote:

“Switzerland is in regular contact with the local authorities in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and is closely monitoring the situation and its development. The demonstrations are an expression of fears that should be treated appropriately. Switzerland calls on all parties to refrain from the use of force.”

Take from that what you will.

Perspective from Bruno Kaufmann, global democracy correspondent

This latest push by the Communist party in Beijing (and their puppet Chief Executive in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam) to restrict the last spaces for democracy and freedom in the eight million population territory was one push too far.

The withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill and subsequent apology by the Chief Executive offers a rare opportunity for Hong Kong to get back on track towards more democracy, as promised by Beijing ahead of the handover from Britain to China, in 1997.

Then-Beijing representative Lu Ping had confirmed that “how Hong Kong develops democracy in the future is a matter entirely within the sphere of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and the central government cannot intervene”.

In recent years, however, business people and dissidents who dared to address the Beijing regime have disappeared from Hong Kong, something we’ve reported about in the past.

Thirty years after the Tiananmen Square massacre in Bejing and five years after the (unsucessful) Umbrella Revolution by Hong Kongers, millions of people have taken to the streets to make something very clear: people power is still alive.

End of insertion
Tens - perhaps hundreds - of thousands of women took to the streets across Switzerland to demand equal pay and treatment. © Keystone / Walter Bieri

Women’s strike, climate change and relations with Europe

Back in Switzerland, with the latest batch of national votes done and dusted, the focus has switched to women, elections, and Europe.

Women: Friday saw a huge turnout of women on Swiss streets in a national strike organised to protest lingering social and economic inequalities between the sexes. It’s the first action of its kind since 1991 and one of the biggest Swiss street protests ever. Let’s see if it gives a jolt to a country often slow to change – stay tuned to for more on what happens next.

Elections: Many are also looking ahead to October’s parliamentary electionsExternal link, which – according to latest opinion polls – will be largely coloured by concerns about the environment. Green and liberal groups will notably gain, predictions reckon, even though the right-wing People’s Party will likely remain the strongest bloc in parliament.

Europe: And yet, beyond a warming climate, topping the list of voter concerns in Switzerland is the ever-burning issue of relations with Europe, an issue that also saw movement last week, when the Swiss government finally came out with an answer for the EU: yes, Bern said, the draft framework agreement looks good! But not yet good enough

Basically, Swiss worries about wage dumping and immigration led the government to demand “clarifications” from Brussels on some key issues; the latter is only happy to oblige, but wants a definite answer by June 18 (today, as of writing...).

Is this likely? Probably not. And even if the government does sign off on the treaty, you can bet it will fall to the people to endorse it at some point over the next year or two.

Speaking of popular votes, keep an eye on the rumbling debates around 5G, a technology that one citizen group has promised to combat with a people’s initiative. And watch out also for a second technology-related issue – E-IDs – of which many in Switzerland are wary.

Is there anything else on your political radar, or anything you’d like to hear more about?

Let us know! (by e-mail, hereExternal link and hereExternal link, or catch Bruno on TwitterExternal link).

Bruno KaufmannExternal link and Domhnall O’SullivanExternal link

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know:

Comments under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Join the conversation!

With a SWI account, you have the opportunity to contribute on our website.

You can Login or register here.