HK elections drawing new wave of activists

A protest banner on May 18 calling for Mr Leung to step down. Hong Kong is mired in governance paralysis due to a toxic relationship between the government and legislators.
A protest banner on May 18 calling for Mr Leung to step down. Hong Kong is mired in governance paralysis due to a toxic relationship between the government and legislators.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Pan-democrats Ronny Tong (far right) and candidate Raymond Mak campaigning in Sha Tin.
Pan-democrats Ronny Tong (far right) and candidate Raymond Mak campaigning in Sha Tin.PHOTO: PATH OF DEMOCRACY

Pan-democrats seek to oust pro-Beijing Leung; localists push for self-rule after 2047

Mr Ricky Wong cuts a suave figure as he panhandles passers-by on a traffic island at Happy Valley on a Thursday night. The 54-year-old is wearing a white fitted shirt, skinny jeans and neon green trainers. His black Mercedes-Benz sedan is parked nearby, his driver waiting.

He bows, somewhat awkwardly, as he hands out campaign leaflets. It is a posture that the media honcho - he owns HKTV - is unused to. But Mr Wong is running in Hong Kong's upcoming Legislative Council (Legco) election - and he is driven by one goal: ABC, or "Anyone But CY".

"CY is the creator of most problems in Hong Kong," he says, referring to the city's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying. Mr Leung, he argues, is a key cause of the city's woes including tensions with Beijing, and a debilitating inability to tackle urgent problems such as housing.

"Many of his policies are not wrong. But he is so unpopular, no one trusts him. With him as CE, nothing gets done," says Mr Wong, who is running as an independent but intends to mobilise pan-democrats to block Mr Leung's bid for a second term next March.

 

Asked if he is being driven by a personal vendetta - Mr Leung's Executive Council turned down his bid for a free-to-air TV licence in 2013 - he retorts: "Do I need to give up my Canadian citizenship, wake up at 6.30am and work for 15 hours as a street promoter (if so)?"

Mr Wong's ABC slogan could resonate among the 3.7 million Hong Kongers voting in the Sept 4 Legco election.

Even as the ABC candidates mobilise for Mr Leung's removal, Beijing has reportedly directed the pro-establishment parties to aim for an additional five seats so as to snare a two-thirds super-majority.

How he and the pan-democrats perform, say some observers, could influence Beijing in deciding who to approve for a vetted race to become the next CE six months later.

Hong Kong today is mired in governance paralysis due largely to a toxic relationship between the government and legislators.

While Mr Leung's critics blame him, the establishment points the finger at pan-democrat legislators. They now hold 27 of 70 seats and critical veto power, which they used last year to block the controversial electoral reform proposal. They have also, via filibustering, stymied key Bills, including one aimed at reforming the medical industry.

On Friday night, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam lambasted their action as "tyranny of the minority".

The hope is that the election outcome will bring about change.

Even as the ABC candidates mobilise for Mr Leung's removal, Beijing has reportedly directed the pro-establishment parties to aim for an additional five seats so as to snare a two-thirds super-majority.

Beyond Hong Kong's immediate future, the year 2047 has emerged as a theme this election.

A new post-Occupy wave of Hong Kong activists is contesting, ranging from radical localists such as Hong Kong Indigenous, which spearheaded this year's Mong Kok riot, to more moderate groups such as Demosisto and Youngspiration.

All are seeking, at the least, self- determination, if not independence, after 2047 when the "one country, two systems" formula expires.

All eyes will be on how much public support these young Turks really have and if they can translate their street politics into legislative legitimacy.

Youngspiration spokesman Kenny Wong, 29, says it wants to push for a referendum on self-determination in 2021.

Meanwhile, it seeks to "strengthen Hong Kong's unique identity" such as by requiring foreigners and mainlanders wanting to become permanent residents to take a "test to learn our history and language".

The pro-independence Mr Wong argues: "Since we don't know how China's economy will progress or if it might implode one day so that it can't control Hong Kong any more, we should get prepared."

In a sign of the establishment's jitters about these candidates, the Electoral Affairs Commission announced on Thursday that candidates have to declare that Hong Kong is part of China.

Mr Leung said the pledge of "50 years no change" post-handover refers to Hong Kong's capitalist system and way of life, and not the question of whether it is part of China.

While localist candidates are grabbing airtime, middle-of-the-road democrats are aware that they have a tougher job capturing the imagination of young Hong Kongers.

Instead of independence, Mr Raymond Mak is advocating regular dialogue between the pan-democrats and Beijing - a twice-yearly meeting complete with progress reports and action plans.

The 33-year-old, who is from the Path Of Democracy established by former pan-Democrat lawmaker Ronny Tong, acknowledges the anger among Hong Kong youth which has driven many to hanker for independence.

"I understand their eagerness to change. But when they propose independence, they need to bear in mind the costs, which will be unbearable... including the possibility of military action," he says.

"I hope Hong Kongers will give rational, constructive action a chance instead."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'HK elections drawing new wave of activists'. Print Edition | Subscribe