25 October 2016
Young candidate Alvin Yeung (center) helped the Civic Party retain its Legco seat in the by-election. Old-line parties will have to think about how to cooperate with and assist the younger generation of democrats. Photo: VOA
Young candidate Alvin Yeung (center) helped the Civic Party retain its Legco seat in the by-election. Old-line parties will have to think about how to cooperate with and assist the younger generation of democrats. Photo: VOA

Democrats should retire and offer stage to younger ones

Two recent elections, one in New Territories East to fill a Legislative Council vacancy and another for district councilors late last year, have soothed the frustration that choked the democratic camp and society at large following Occupy Central, an exhausting campaign that failed.

Led by Edward Leung Tin-kei and his peers, as well as the vibrant groups like Youngspiration and Hong Kong Indigenous that they represent, the high-spirited new generation has breathed new life into Hong Kong’s pursuit of democracy.

They are now gearing up for the Legco elections in September.

Beijing’s lip service to 50 years of no change for Hong Kong has belied the truth that changes have occurred and more are underway.

Many Hongkongers were kept in the dark until the raft of drastic developments ushered in by the Leung Chun-ying administration, but these changes have long been choreographed and are the result of decades of implementation.

Hong Kong is a unique sum of enormous assets, both fixed and intangible, and millions of talented people capable of creating wealth.

Beijing pledged in the run-up to the handover to maintain the status quo and not to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.

But apparently that hasn’t held Beijing back from turning Hong Kong red or mainlandizing the city.

While lording over the Hong Kong authorities, Communist Party cadres feel it behooves them to grab the wheel of the local market to maximize their own interests.

Meanwhile, they also feel the need to make Hong Kong a hybrid of local and mainland culture suitable for them and their princelings to profit from and to revel in.

With its own system injected with mainland characteristics, Hong Kong is thus an ideal embodiment of the wishes of the party cadres that can never be realized on the mainland under another system.

Yet the mainlandization push has failed to stifle the emerging trend of Hong Kong’s social movements, which are charting their own course.

Young democrats, having given full play to both their brains and brawn in street rallies, are now seeking a foray into the legislature.

They include regiments of the “umbrella soldiers” from Younginspiration that have, in their maiden run, grabbed 10 seats in the district councils.

Hong Kong Indigenous will also send a candidate to contest a Legco seat after its “glorious defeat” in the by-election.

So will Scholarism, a student group that was one of the leading lights in the Occupy movement.

Now, the well-trodden methods of our old-line democrats — like vetoing bills in Legco and holding news conferences afterward to chant hackneyed slogans – may be shunned by these newcomers.

The government may also find it harder to force bills through Legco, as younger lawmakers are never prepared to compromise and won’t hesitate to press the authorities with strident, valiant protests outside the chamber, where they started their political career.

And the groups they represent are adroit at mobilizing supporters via the internet and social networking tools.

Hence there will be synergy among scrutiny of bills by Legco, street rallies and cyberspace mobilization, something the hidebound older democrats may never be able to achieve.

One example was how Edward Leung and his campaign volunteers managed to deliver 550,000 election leaflets to voters in various districts within three days, after the Registration and Electoral Office, saying his manifesto was “unconstitutional”, refused to distribute them for him.

As the new democrats dive into the fray, the only way out for the old-school members, who are already fading into obscurity, is to step out of the chamber, abandon their condescension and reach out to the people.

The best thing for them is to retire and never try to preach at the young or pull their strings.

It will be novel, indeed, for patriarchs of the pan-democratic bloc to step down to give room for young reformers, but it is the only way to ensure a smooth transition to bridge the generation gap.

Luckily, we have already seen signs of goodwill.

Senior Counsel Nigel Kat represented and sought bail for Hong Kong Indigenous convener Ray Wong Toi-yeung in court in the wake of the Mong Kok unrest last month.

The Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, the mainstream candidate who won the by-election, remained on good terms with Edward Leung throughout the campaign.

Big parties should also take a hint from Scholarism, which has aimed its agenda at the ultimate question of what happens to Hong Kong after 2047, far beyond the immediate issues.

Scholarism convener Joshua Wong Chi-fung said a party that will soon be founded by his group will focus on long-term objectives like a rewrite of the Basic Law and a referendum to decide Hong Kong’s political future.

Independence for Hong Kong is an option that should be considered, he said, if there’s no room for autonomy under Beijing’s suzerainty.

The party will also run in the Legco elections to try to bring these issues into the chamber.

Senior democrats should spare some thought for the 2047 question, which Hong Kong will eventually have to face.

Unless they and their parties can propose a common platform that incorporates young people’s aspirations, they won’t be able to canvass support from young voters, nor will they have a future.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 3.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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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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