With just four months left before the next Legislative Council elections, the political landscape in Hong Kong is rapidly changing.
Political parties that have taken a critical approach in dealing with the government appear to be gaining momentum, while those who maintain a neutral stance on political issues seem to be losing ground.
Even Hong Kong Indigenous, which figured in violent encounters with the police such as during the protests against mainland parallel traders and the Mong Kok clashes, has risen to become one of the city’s top 10 political parties by public awareness, according to a recent survey.
This shows that localism has entered the mainstream of Hong Kong political thought, thanks to the panicky reactions of mainland officials and their local followers.
According to the latest survey conducted by Public Opinion Program of the University of Hong Kong, seven of the top 10 political groups in the last survey have managed to maintain their places on the list.
Meanwhile, Labour Party, Scholarism and Hong Kong Indigenous were able to enter the “winning circle” and replace the Association for the Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL), Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) and New People’s Party.
What’s also surprising is that the Liberal Party, which represents the interests of the business sector, ranked first on the list for the first time.
Civic Party remained on second place, the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) rose two steps to rank third, and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) jumped three positions to rank fourth.
The traditional opposition group, the Democratic Party, went down two rungs to rank fifth.
Labour Party, on the other hand, re-entered the list to gain the sixth place.
Two other progressive democratic parties, the League of Social Democrats and People’s Power, were No. 7 and No. 8 respectively.
Student group Scholarism re-entered the list to rank ninth and Hong Kong Indigenous made it to the list for the first time at No. 10.
So, based on the latest HKU survey, seven out of top 10 political groups are pro-democracy and/or localist groups, while the remaining three – Liberal Party, HKFTU and DAB – belong to the pro-establishment camp.
It should be made clear that the survey is not concerned about the most popular political groups, but focuses on the level of public awareness about them and the impression they make on the people.
Still, the survey provides an indication of how Hong Kong people look at the political parties and their sentiment amid the looming Legco elections this September and the election for the next chief executive next year.
Liberal Party must have surprised many observers by shooting up to No. 1, despite its image as a pro-tycoon party in a city where the majority of the people harbor some resentment toward rich people as well as the government.
But Liberal Party is a little bit different from other pro-establishment groups. Its leaders have positioned themselves as pro-government, but they don’t display blind loyalty to Beijing authorities and the local government under Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
In fact, the party is one of the most vocal in criticizing Leung for his Beijing-oriented policy implementation.
James Tien, a Liberal Party legislator and former party chief, has gained much public support for his outspoken opposition to many of Leung’s policies and for shifting the party’s direction from being a traditional Beijing loyalist group that shies away from criticizing CY Leung’s administration.
Felix Chung, the party’s incumbent, said Hong Kong people recognizes the party for its “dare to speak out” attitude in dealing with current issues.
The party has also clearly positioned itself as a “non-Leung” group, another reason why it continues to gain public support.
It will be recalled that the Liberal Party played a key role in opposing CY Leung in the 2012 chief executive election, and gave its support to former chief secretary Henry Tang, a party veteran.
Many Hong Kong people are closely following the pronouncements of key officials of the party to get a hint of who it will support in next year’s chief executive election.
Another remarkable development in the HKU survey is the decline in the support rate for the Democratic Party.
This could serve as a warning to the party’s leaders that they better shape up or risk being overtaken by political developments.
Its confused stance on the rise of localism and the future of Hong Kong after 2047 is one of the main criticisms against the party.
The rise of Hong Kong Indigenous in the survey is no surprise following the Legco by-election in late February which saw its member Edward Leung securing more than 15 percent of vote.
Even though Leung did not win the seat, his remarkable performance in the election was able to draw more public attention to Hong Kong independence and self-determination issues after 2047.
The more the pro-Beijing camp tries to stifle the independence call, the bigger the support that groups like Hong Kong Indigenous gain from the public, especially from the youngsters.
Of course, the HKU survey results won’t be enough to give us a clear idea of possible outcome of the upcoming Legco elections.
But the general direction is quite clear: voters will support political parties that are unequivocal in their opposition to CY Leung and their support for the interests of Hong Kong people.
Liberal Party provides a good example.
It has gained much public support because it takes a critical stance against ill-advised government policies and actions, even though it is known as a pro-Beijing party.
Hong Kong people want politicians who have the courage to stand by their own beliefs, and not be confined by the narrow boundaries of their political affiliations.
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