18 February 2019
Though pro-Beijing members still make up the majority of district councilors, "umbrella soldiers" and nativists have grabbed the spotlight in the recent polls. Photo: Internet
Though pro-Beijing members still make up the majority of district councilors, "umbrella soldiers" and nativists have grabbed the spotlight in the recent polls. Photo: Internet

How nativism and ‘umbrella soldiers’ thrived in district polls

Pro-democracy nativists have emerged as the new stars in Hong Kong’s district council election.

They belong to a younger generation that was born and brought up in the city and has a lot of will and stamina to face up to the Goliaths to ensure that Hong Kong remains a free and just society.

The gallant youngsters also have the wisdom to determine their own path in the quest for democracy. The preceding generation of democrats has largely failed to do its part, giving those members only peripheral roles in the new era — as supporters and campaign advisers.

What Hong Kong has undergone within the past 18 months can fit well into a classic movie plot: having been denied a genuine free vote, locals were backed into a corner and staged an open revolt against China and its local lackeys.

The Communist Party was obviously annoyed and wanted Hongkongers to pay. “Votes would be repaid by votes (票債票償),” some members of the pro-establishment camp had threatened.

We have seen that Beijing envoys had pulled out all stops to crush democrats in the recent election, which is expected to have a deep impact on next year’s legislative council election. The ultimate goal is to strip the pan-dems’ critical minority status and their vetoing power in the new legislature.

But the result was not what the central leaders had hoped. Though pro-establishment members still make up the majority of district councilors, the camp secured 35 fewer seats in the 18 councils.

Regiments of the “umbrella soldiers (傘兵)”, participants of the Umbrella Movement last fall, have taken center stage. As a whole, these new democratic groups grabbed 10 seats in their maiden run.

Winners include Youngspiration, Tai Po Innovation, Concern Group for Tseung Kwan O People’s Livelihood, Shatin Community Network and Kowloon East Community.

Some of these groups were founded with the explicit aim of taking part in the district council polls. It’s also noteworthy that the new entities have distanced themselves from political parties.

Nativism and localized platforms are the common elements of the new groups.

Fifteen out of 16 candidates from the Neo Democrats – many of whom were once members of the Democratic Party – won their seats. Their average age is just 32.

Nativism first took root through some “radical” concepts and schools of thought, like the Hong Kong city-state theories spearheaded by Lingnan University Professor Horace Chin Wan-kan.

When Chin first put forth his ideals years ago, he and his supporters were seen as a cult of radicals, as compared to the pan-dems’ mainstream proposition of a “democratic reunification with China”.

Then more theories started to derive from Chin’s assertions, some calling for full autonomy or even Hong Kong independence. The truth is that both moderates and radicals are essential to the debate and evolvement of nativism.

The next question is, should the Democratic Party adjust itself to the new dynamics?

My answer would have been “yes” two years ago, but now I see no reason for old-line democrats to veer from the “orthodox” stance to modernize or “radicalize” themselves. Nativists have picked their own representatives already.

A pan-democratic camp spanning a wide spectrum is more practicable and conducive to future development. New thoughts and movements can bring in new faces who may have once been apathetic toward politics.

The election result can be a morale booster. I do not agree with Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s point that Hong Kong’s democratic movement and its mobilization capability may have peaked out.

Quite the contrary, I believe Beijing and the SAR government have exhausted their mobilization capability, as was evident from the recent election.

All of these are positive signs, something Beijing and its stooges could never envisage.

Their well-trodden strategies have been to put up a united front and use free dinners and banquets to solicit voters, or drawing in campaigners from the mainland.

This time they resorted to something new: making employees of state-owned enterprises to stand for some seats. Six employees from China Travel Service (HK) Group Corp., one of the four pillar Chinese SOEs operating in Hong Kong, have won seats in their districts.

There’s no question that given the spoon-fed, state-level backing, be it through financial support or personnel coordination, candidates from the SOEs are guaranteed an easy win.

It has been reported that CTS candidates were granted long leaves for the election and that some colleagues were deployed for electioneering. We will see more candidates like these in the next LegCo election.

Still, with the all-out efforts, Beijing loyalists got fewer seats than last time. David can still defeat Goliath.

Other than the Democratic Party, other mainstream parties like Labor Party, Civic Party, Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre, and Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood all garnered satisfactory votes.

This shows that even after a “radical” Occupy movement, middle-of-the-road supporters still have faith and do not oppose extraordinary methods.

One advice for the newly elected district councilors: serve your districts with devotion, complete the term and seek reelection.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 26.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Democratic Party candidates during an electioneering campaign ahead of the district polls. Photo: VOA

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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