17 September 2019
Lee Cheuk-yan was among the representatives of various pro-democracy parties who apologized to their supporters following the setback in the Kowloon West Legco by-election. Photo: HKEJ
Lee Cheuk-yan was among the representatives of various pro-democracy parties who apologized to their supporters following the setback in the Kowloon West Legco by-election. Photo: HKEJ

Time to reunite our civil society

The pro-democracy camp has suffered a setback due to its defeat in the Legislative Council by-election for a seat in the Kowloon West geographical constituency.

Our defeat means that we have failed in our bid to reclaim the veto power in the geographical constituencies of Legco under the split voting system, and that the pro-establishment camp is now fully capable of dictating the fate of each and every government bill or member’s motion.

Respecting the decision of voters is an important principle of any democratic election.

The result of the Nov. 25 by-election indicates that the pro-democracy camp was unable to rally substantial support from the citizens in terms of the campaign effort and election platforms.

I believe the pro-democracy camp would deeply reflect on the causes of its defeat and ponder over its way forward.

We are all too aware of the formidable power of mobilization and widespread community networks of the pro-establishment camp.

In the two Legco by-polls in Kowloon West this year, the vote totals of establishment candidates remained supremely stable, suggesting that the pro-Beijing camp has become extremely mature in manipulating its organized votes.

Given that, the only way to counter the muscular electioneering machine of the establishment camp is to encourage more people to come out to vote.

Take the 2016 Legco race as an example. In that election, the entire non-pro-establishment camp grossed a total of some 162,000 votes in Kowloon West.

In fact the pro-democracy camp should probably have won the two Kowloon West by-polls this year if these voters had all come out to cast their votes.

In the wake of the Umbrella Movement, a lot of young people have formed new political groups and entered politics. Among them, quite a number can be categorized as localist groups.

These localist groups are generally discontented with the political status quo and our political system, and have put forward new discourses on the issue of Hong Kong’s future.

Moreover, these groups are often strong advocates of radical means of resistance. Indeed, amid the rise of these groups, the pro-democracy camp is also caught in the firing line.

Now let’s get back to the issue of voter turnout.

If we compare the figures of the 2016 Legco election with the March 11 bypoll in Kowloon West this year, we can easily find that the voter turnout of the age group of 18 to 40-year olds was down almost 40 percent from 80,000 in 2016 to barely 50,000 in March this year.

Given this, a task that requires a concerted effort of the entire pro-democracy camp in the coming days is find ways to win over these voters and encourage them to come out and cast their ballots in future elections.

Meanwhile, we must also pay attention to the changing dynamics in the cyberworld and social media.

Over the years, the internet has remained a crucial platform for the democracy camp to rally public support in order to stand out against the pro-establishment forces.

However, in recent years, the pro-establishment camp and its affiliated groups have begun to pour huge resources into developing their own online media outlets and online propaganda machines in an apparent attempt to try to swing public opinion their way.

In the meantime, the rise of the social media has also turned out to be a double-edged sword for the pro-democracy camp, as provocative and controversial remarks of certain members of the camp have gone viral on various social media platforms, taking a toll on the image of the pro-democracy bloc.

In face of the new state of political affairs in Hong Kong in the post-Umbrella Movement era, the civil society has become seriously divided, not to mention that many social movement participants and organizers have been falling victim to the ongoing government crackdown on dissent.

Under such circumstances, I believe it probably won’t prove easy to reunite the entire non-pro-establishment civil society and facilitate cooperation among different democracy factions in the short run.

Nevertheless, even though the odds are stacked against us, we must understand the reality: only when different factions in the pro-democracy camp stop attacking one another and strive to narrow their differences in political stance and ideology will they be able to create favorable conditions for future cooperation among them.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 30

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)