The government of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was dealt a resounding vote of no confidence through the results of the Legislative Council by-election for the New Territories East geographical constituency.
Edward Leung, who ran under the banner of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, secured 15.4 percent of the vote or 66,524 votes in the election.
Although he failed to win the seat, it is quite clear that his radical approach won substantial support, especially from young voters in the district.
The Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung is the clear winner, garnering 37.2 percent of the votes and edging out his pro-Beijing adversary, Holden Chow of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, by a margin of 2.4 percentage points.
Adding the votes of Yeung and Leung, the pan-democratic camp gained the support of 52.6 percent of the electorate in the district.
The results showed that voters were clearly disappointed with the CY Leung administration and his efforts to please his Beijing benefactors after the collapse of the reform package for the 2017 election in June last year.
The surge of support for the Hong Kong Indigenous candidate, especially in the last 20 days of the campaign, showed that many people are disappointed with the current political deadlock and are willing to consider the radical, even violent, approach as an option in the democratic struggle.
As the next Legco election in September approaches, the New Territories East by-election could be seen as the latest public poll for pro-Beijing, pro-democracy and local groups.
Given the next election under the proportional representation should benefit smaller political groups, local groups such as Hong Kong Indigenous and Youngspiration have all the chance to put up a real challenge to other pan-democratic parties and bring their radical and aggressive brand of opposition to the legislature to add pressure to the Beijing-backed establishment.
After the election, Leung, who has been charged with rioting in connection with the Mong Kok clashes, said: “You could see that those numbers are the number of people who support us [to] participate in those forceful protests. So it’s a clear message to the government that we, Hong Kong people, especially our generation, we will not retreat, but we will resist.”
The youth hardly have the tolerance of their elders and simply could not wait for them to bring about change in the current political deadlock between Hong Kong and China, between the democrats and the Beijing loyalists.
They have their own way of expressing their political ideology to fight for the interests of Hong Kong people, to break out of the limitations set by the government, and resist efforts to force the city to integrate with mainland China.
In the past two years, the localist groups have shown their brand of activism which is totally different from the passive resistance shown by their colleagues on the democratic front.
They have shown it, for example, through their protests in Sheung Shui district where parallel traders and Chinese visitors made bulk purchases of daily necessities and deprived local people of the same items they needed for their own use.
Despite words of caution from traditional democrats who said such radical campaigns could alienate the silent majority, the localist campaign was able to force Beijing to review visa arrangements for Chinese people wanting to go to Hong Kong and lure pro-Beijing businessmen to build a shopping mall selling Hong Kong products in Shenzhen to divert the traffic back to the mainland.
The protests against mainland parallel traders is only one example of how radical approach can lead to change.
Many Hong Kong people have expressed despair after the 79-day Occupy campaign failed to move the Communist Party to respond to their clamor for genuine universal suffrage.
Even the traditional democrats have been at a loss on how to pursue the democratic struggle in the face of Beijing’s intransigence, short of adopting a more radical approach.
Right now, filibustering could be the only peaceful way for democrats to voice out their anger over government policies.
The filibusters during the legislative process for the copyright amendment bill are part of their effort to stop the government from implementing tougher laws to restrict Hong Kong people’s freedom.
And now, the public is waiting to see whether the government would stop pushing the bill this week as the lawmakers’ filibusters could affect other more important bills such as the government budget.
On Saturday, dramatic scenes were seen during the Legco finance committee’s deliberation of the government’s HK$19.6 billion funding request to cover cost overruns in the Express Rail Link.
Eight pan-democrat legislators ran to the desk of acting chairman Chan Kam-lam after he restricted lawmakers’ questions to two minutes each. They berated Chan for flouting the rules of procedure.
Still, the pro-Beijing camp will do anything to get the funding request approved in the next meeting as the project will run out of funds in March.
With the rise of localist groups, pan-democrats need to change their mindset and adopt new action plans to pursue the democratic struggle.
The election results could be seen as a warning to the traditional democrats that they must stand firm in front of Beijing and its allies who are bent on disregarding the city’s core values in its efforts to integrate Hong Kong with the mainland.
Yeung, despite his victory, acknowledged the need for pan-democrats to review their modes of struggle in Legco.
“In fact, I have seen in the past few months that legislators across [the pan-democratic camp] are willing and happy to get united and do something more than just pressing the button, like filibustering, and to get out of the seat and try to stop the bill.”
In view of the emergence of the localist ideology, pan-democrats are likely to shift from a moderate form of struggle to a more radical approach to uphold Hong Kong’s core values.
They need to work under a new game plan on how to boost their support among the youth as well as how to collaborate with localist groups to boost the number of pan-democrats during the Legco elections in September.
The election results showed that Hong Kong people still depend on pan-democrats to fight for their interests, and pan-democrats shouldn’t disappoint their supporters ever again.
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