27 October 2016
Emily Lau and Helena Wong (in red jackets) are surrounded by an angry crowd late Wednesday during a protest over an online copyrights bill. The picture inset shows a demonstrator smashing a computer. Photos: HKEJ
Emily Lau and Helena Wong (in red jackets) are surrounded by an angry crowd late Wednesday during a protest over an online copyrights bill. The picture inset shows a demonstrator smashing a computer. Photos: HKEJ

Why the Democratic Party risks losing more youth support

The Democratic Party, the largest of the opposition parties in Hong Kong, is finding itself in an unenviable position due to its approach over the debate on the controversial copyrights bill.

After facing a challenge from radical groups as well as newly founded youth camps in the post-Occupy era, the party is now running the risk of alienating young voters further following the kerfuffle over the Internet-related legislation.

Activists fighting to protest online freedoms feel the Democratic Party is not doing enough to stall the proposed copyrights bill.

In a reflection of the discontent, prominent figures from the party were booed and jeered this week outside the Legislative Council.

On Thursday, lawmaker Helena Wong faced angry crowds as she sought to explain her party’s position on the copyrights bill, which critics say will stifle free speech and curb creativity online.  

Wong was prevented from speaking by protesters who raised slogans and attempted to surround her. In the end, she has to be escorted out of the area by security guards.

It followed similar treatment meted out to her and her party chairperson Emily Lau a day earlier.

On Wednesday, when Wong and Lau showed up at the protest area to explain their group’s stance on the proposed revision of the Copyright Ordinance, the pair was booed and Lau’s speech was interrupted several times.

Protesters were unhappy that the Democratic Party did not join in with the filibustering at a LegCo meeting that sought to take forward the debate on the contentious Internet-related bill. 

Authorities have defended proposed amendments to the Copyrights Ordinance by saying that more needs to be done to protest the rights of copyrights holders and curb online piracy.

But activists fear the amendments could put Internet users who create derivative works based on published material at the risk of criminal breach of the law.

Critics have dubbed the copyrights bill as “Article 23 of the Internet”, a reference to a controversial national security legislation that had been proposed in the past under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

When the LegCo resumed a debate on the copyright law, protesters urged democrat lawmakers to join a filibuster led by four radical lawmakers.

The filibuster was aimed at forcing the government to withdraw the amendment before the public reaches a consensus on the law.

But the Democratic Party chose not to join in, arguing that it is the duty of lawmakers to engage in a healthy debate.

Protesters were also angry as the party lawmakers Albert Ho and Sin Chung-kai remained in LegCo chamber during the last few seconds of a quorum count.

Had they been outside the chamber during the count, the meeting would have been adjourned due to the lack of sufficient members.

Party chief Emily Lau visited a protest area outside the LegCo complex Wednesday night to explain matters, but she and other party members were heckled by hundreds of young demonstrators.

Lau failed to give her speech and was forced to return to the LegCo with protesters surrounding her.

Some protesters shouted: “Democratic Party, filibustering please”, indicating clearly that they wanted the party to stall the debate.

But Lau did not reply to that, and instead just left the area, saying: “I won’t force you to listen to me.”

Wong then told the crowd that she has a responsibility to take their voice into the legislature, but the remark failed to soothe the protesters, who responded with more jeers.

Now, what has gone wrong with the relationship between the democrats and the young generation?

In the copyright law debate, influential youth groups such as Scholarism and Youngspiration have urged all the 27 democrat lawmakers to join the filibustering, as well as call for the quorum bell.

The aim was to get the debate postponed until after the Christmas holiday, or force some pro-Beijing lawmakers to soften their stance on the law.

However, the Democratic Party drew a line to distance itself from the younger groups and refused to participate in the filibustering.

The party also did not make any explicit commitment to oppose the ordinance, fueling concern among the youth that it could change its stance any time.

While things are still unfolding, it could be difficult to draw a final conclusion as to why the democrats are conceding support on such a politically sensitive topic.

Older generation politicians have failed to gauge the mood of the public, particularly the youth, regarding the copyright law amendment, making them end up with wrong judgments.

Filibustering is, in fact, not something that the democrats haven’t tried before, in attempts to postpone or delay the progress of debate on sensitive laws. The electoral reform debate earlier this year was an example of such attempt.

But now it is now adopting a different strategy when it comes to the copyrights bill. 

It appears the party is trying to play a balancing game in a bid to be seen as reasonable. While such position could be welcomed by middle-aged supporters, it will only drive more young people away.

The younger generation has little patience for mixed tactics aimed at the longer term. What it wants is quick results.

As the Democratic Party refused to join in the filibustering, the party is seen as being too careful and trying to avoid criticism of disturbing the LegCo operation, rather than serving the public interest.

Scholarism’s Agnes Chow wrote on a social media platform that the Democratic Party needs to review not only its stance on the copyrights bill, but also its overall attitude in dealing with the public.

“It’s totally unacceptable for a directly-elected lawmaker to give a dark face to the public and leave the venue,” she wrote, referring to Emily Lau’s actions Wednesday night.

The Democratic Party surely has something to chew on as it maps out its future strategy.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter