17 January 2019
Demosistō, a political party founded by former members of student group Scholarism, aims to contest in the September LegCo election. Photo: Reuters
Demosistō, a political party founded by former members of student group Scholarism, aims to contest in the September LegCo election. Photo: Reuters

The young are marching into politics as the elders foul up

It appears that nothing can hold back the young activists who are making a determined push into Hong Kong’s political scene via new parties ahead of the September Legislative Council election.

Young yet “veteran” democrats Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Agnes Chow Ting founded the Demosistō party last week, advocating a referendum on Hong Kong’s political future and open discussions on all possible options, including independence.

I pin high hopes on young people like them, who, while outlining their vision and a clear stand, have drawn a line under radicalism.

My hopes are more than just about how many seats they can secure in the election, as the results will depend on various factors — including how many candidates they’ll put up, the choice of geographic constituencies, possible vote-split, etc.

The greater significance is that they are accelerating the generational supersession of the entire pan-democratic bloc. Once they achieve that, they will propose platforms and agendas that best serve the public interest and fight shoulder to shoulder with Hongkongers to bring the demands into fruition.

At the beginning, they may find themselves running the gauntlet of questions and doubts about even the names of their new organizations, as we’ve seen from the intense debate over the English name “Demosistō”.

But on a positive note, the debate has effectively made the name more well-known. All the spoofs and skepticism will disappear if the new party can soon make its presence felt.

A descriptive name like Demosistō will be useful in soliciting international support.

Separatism takes root in internal factors like a region’s state of politics, people’s ethnicity, and the relationship between the local and central authorities, but what usually determines the outcome of a separatist movement is the dynamics of politics and interests beyond the border.

While believing in self-reliance, we must also garner external support. Hence, a catchy name in English is essential.

Demosistō’s political philosophy bears the hallmarks of crowdsourcing: it aims to serve as an open platform for proposing and implementing policies by all members, rather than the conventional “top-down” approach.

In the thick of the 2014 Occupy movement, I discussed the roadmap for Hong Kong’s democratic movement, believing the theme would shift and center around localism and that those born after the 1980s would be the leading light.

Now, we are beginning to see those changes.

Our understanding of historic events always lags behind the progress of history itself: we only slowly began to realize, in years afterward, the significance of watershed events like the 1997 handover.

Beijing’s hackneyed slogan back then was that “the Chinese can be equally good as Brits (in running Hong Kong)”, and some even suggested they can do even better.

Hong Kong prospered throughout a quarter of century since the 1970s under British colonial governors from Sir Murray MacLehose to Chris Patten. But the three local chief executives post-handover have all paled in comparison.

So, if incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying is given a second term, it will mark 25 years of Hong Kong’s downhill journey by the time he steps down in 2022. The city’s path before and after 1997 can look like a perfect inverted U curve.

Whenever a society is in decline, you can always see similar signs: the ruled lose faith in the existing political order whereas the rulers have no mandate to lead. And when infighting among the top ruling stratum becomes white hot, new thoughts keep springing up among intellectuals.

The sweeping political restructuring will attenuate the power of central authorities and ultimately, the regime will crumble.

When the ruling class loses its morality, one of the direct symptoms can be that the entire appointment and appraisal system becomes slack with the total lack of discipline. And so is the top leader when it comes to his personal integrity.

One can only lament how quickly Hong Kong, once a role model in upholding rules and procedures, has deteriorated within just a little more than a decade.

The mainland is a shining example, and a warning to Hongkongers, of all the consequences if the people in charge become arbitrary.

Still, the huge public backlash against Leung in the airport baggage incident related to his daughter, and the scandal involving the new Equal Opportunities Commission chairman, is proof that our society won’t tolerate any petty dishonesty that debases Hong Kong’s core values and institutions.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Apr. 14.

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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