16 September 2019
More than a hundred people gathered outside the office of the pro-Beijing politician Christopher Chung to celebrate his defeat in the District Council election.
Photos: Facebook, Apple Daily
More than a hundred people gathered outside the office of the pro-Beijing politician Christopher Chung to celebrate his defeat in the District Council election. Photos: Facebook, Apple Daily

How Beijing’s radical policy triggered a backlash from HK voters

On Monday night, more than a hundred people gathered outside the office of the pro-Beijing politician Christopher Chung to celebrate his defeat in the previous day’s election, which ended his more than two decades of service in the district council.

The celebration, staged by mostly young supporters of his victorious rival, showed how many pro-establishment politicians have become out of touch with the younger generation.

They have failed to see the writing on the wall, that a growing number of Hong Kong people want to assert the city’s uniqueness amid Beijing’s efforts to turn the territory into an integral part of the mainland.

It’s interesting to see how Beijing will respond to the results of Sunday’s district council elections, or whether the central authorities will revise their policies towards Hong Kong prior to the Legislative Council polls next year and the chief executive election in 2017.

Beijing may have mixed feelings about the district council election results.

While the pro-establishment camp still dominated in all the 18 district councils in terms of the number of seats won, the results failed to show an overwhelming victory.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the biggest pro-Beijing party in the city, saw the number of its seats fall to 119 from 136, while the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions managed to keep their 29 seats.

While DAB insists that it won more votes this time than in the previous election, the number of seats it won didn’t reflect the trend.

Before the election, political observers as well as Beijing loyalists had thought that the Occupy protests last year should help the pro-establishment camp win a landslide in the exercise.

The whole government machinery had been busy blaming the democrats for social instability, and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying himself urged the public more than once to “vote them out” to facilitate the government’s smooth operation.

But the election results showed that many citizens not only wanted to “vote them in” but also opened the door for new faces from last year’s Umbrella Movement to enter the government and serve the community.

In short, many voters wanted to break the pro-Beijing camp’s monopoly of the government at the district level.

The government’s relatively low-key efforts in promoting the district polls did not matter to people who wanted to go out and vote against the pro-Beijing politicians.

It could be said the last year’s Umbrella Movement exerted an influence on the election in the sense that it encouraged more youngsters to participate in the process and challenge the pro-Beijing incumbents.

But a deeper look into the results of the district polls would show that many voters used the election to express their disgust over the deteriorating governance of Hong Kong under the leadership of Leung Chun-ying.

Leung, with the prodding and support of central authorities, has been keen on creating social conflicts that allow him to assert his leadership and Beijing’s rule over the territory.

This is manifest in the national education policy, the white paper of the implementation of the One Country, Two Systems in Hong Kong, the anti-Occupy organizations set up by some radical Beijing loyalists, and intervention in university appointments.

All these issues not only deepened resentment and animosity in society but also fueled anger among the youth and some members of the so-called silent majority. They are feeling uncomfortable under Leung’s leadership.

That’s the reason why the voter turnout rate hit a record high of 47 percent: people were raring to express their opposition to Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong.

Voters also used the ballot to punish some pro-Beijing lawmakers, who betrayed their shallow minds with their harsh, undignified attacks against pan-democrats.

Chung and Elizabeth Quat, who have been DAB members of the Legislative Council since 2012, lost their seats on Sunday. 

Chung, Quat and Ann Chiang are three DAB lawmakers who took almost every opportunity to assail the democrats and blindly support the policies of Beijing and CY Leung.

The drubbing suffered by Chung and Quat indicates that many voters, especially youngsters, are not amused by their style of politics.

The election results also highlight the need for the pro-Beijing camp to incubate a fresh batch of politicians who are more sophisticated in order to win back the public trust.

Against this backdrop, it’s interesting to see whether Beijing would calibrate its strategies in dealing with Hong Kong.

The radical approach being implemented by CY Leung over the last two years has failed to gain more support from Hong Kong people, but has in fact alienated many of them. They have also given rise to localist forces at the local level.

As more youngsters register as voters, or even candidates, Beijing’s influence over the district and legislative councils may be affected.

Beijing and their loyalists in the territory may find themselves getting more isolated from the people, and they will sooner or later realize that gaining their support will involve more than giving out freebies to the elderly and the poor.

What Hong Kong people need is for Beijing to respect the uniqueness of the Hong Kong system.

(Video: Young people celebrate Christopher Chung’s defeat in the District Council election)

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EJ Insight writer