19 July 2019
New Legco members (from left) Eddie Chu, Nathan Law and Lau Siu-lai advocate self-determination for Hong Kong. Photos: HKEJ
New Legco members (from left) Eddie Chu, Nathan Law and Lau Siu-lai advocate self-determination for Hong Kong. Photos: HKEJ

Legco election: Triumph for democracy

Old-school pan-democrats might have seen regression in the aftermath of Sunday’s Legislative Council election, but the exercise definitely marked a significant progress for democracy in Hong Kong.

It is now crystal-clear that the rise of the localist and pro-independence faction is unstoppable, and so is the decline of the washed-up pan-democrats.

Although candidates representing the localist and pro-independence faction (we may also call it the “pan-independence” camp) only snapped up three seats in Legco, their political influence and the prospects of their future successes must never be underestimated.

Their achievement in this election should not be measured solely by the number of seats they gained.

Rather, their true success lies in the fact that their stunning debut and remarkable victory over several seasoned pan-democratic incumbents have encouraged and inspired tens of thousands of young people in the city, and marked the beginning of a new chapter in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

From now on, the 20-something and no-nonsense young activists will become the new standard-bearers of the local pro-democracy movement, whereas the old-school pan-democratic establishment will gradually fade out of the picture.

Just look at the electrifying images on TV showing tens of thousands of young, first-time voters eagerly queuing up for hours outside polling stations across the city to cast their votes, and you can tell that there is still hope in the future of our city.

These are young people who, awakened and inspired by the Occupy Movement, won’t resign themselves to fate and injustice like their parents or grandparents, and are determined to take the future of their city back into their own hands rather than counting on some hypocritical and slippery politicians to make a difference.

On the other hand, the surprising victory of three candidates representing the internationalist faction also marked another milestone in local politics.

Often mocked as “leftist hypocrities” (左膠), anarchists or utopianists by other pro-democracy factions, they have remained the untouchables in the local political spectrum for years, and are hated by the left, the center and the right simultaneously.

Even the localist and pro-independence factions have been at odds with them over the years because these internationalists have been championing the rights of new immigrants from the mainland, a stance which has put them into direct conflict with the pan-independence groups, which are against the influx of new immigrants from China.

The fact that the three internationalist candidates all won by significant margins indicates that many voters are sympathetic towards their cause.

However, in my opinion, there is in fact a lot of room for cooperation between the pan-independence faction and the internationalists in the days ahead both inside and outside Legco, as the political differences between them are indeed not as huge as most people think.

Take Eddie Chu Hoi-dick as an example. I have known him for nine years and he is a typical liberal internationalist by all measures.

A former international news journalist who spent months in Afghanistan and Iran, Chu has been an active environmentalist and conservationist over the years.

He also figured as a frontline activist defending the land rights of rural villagers and farmers against big real estate developers.

Apart from protecting the environment and rural farmland, Chu has also been devoted to preserving the city’s cultural heritage and collective memories, and in that sense he can be considered a steadfast localist as well.

In fact, he was a key figure in the campaign against the demolition of the old Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier in Central 10 years ago.

As we can see, despite their conflicting stances on new immigrants, the pan-independence faction and the internationalists have a lot in common in their beliefs and causes, not to mention that they are both considered by Beijing as troublemakers.

As such, they should see each other as allies rather than rivals.

As far as the old-school pan-democrats are concerned, they might have managed to survive this election and avoid being erased from the political scene altogether.

But what they pulled off this time was at best a Pyrrhic victory, as some of their heavyweights such as Lee Cheuk-yan, Frederick Fung Kin-kee and Cyd Ho failed to get re-elected.

Based on my estimation, at least one-third of the pan-democrats’ votes went to either the pan-independence groups or the internationalists, indicating that their support base is eroding rapidly after the Occupy Movement.

To avoid total annihilation in the next election, it is inevitable that the pan-democrats will have to embrace the localist theme over the next four years in order to compete with pan-independence groups for the support of young voters.

However, first things first.

What the pan-democrats need to do right now is, first, to divert their resources and legal expertise to help those who had been barred from running in this election due to their pro-independence stance to file judicial review applications.

Secondly, they must provide support for secondary school students who got into trouble for advocating pro-independence ideas in their schools.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 6.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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HKEJ columnist

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