HK govt warns young election candidates

Police officers stand in front of the city's Legislative Council prior to an election rally by the Youngspiration political party, Hong Kong, on Aug 28.
Police officers stand in front of the city's Legislative Council prior to an election rally by the Youngspiration political party, Hong Kong, on Aug 28.PHOTO: EPA

Newcomers, who are tipped to win seats, said to turn back on statutory declaration and push for independence

Just days ahead of Sunday's Legislative Council (Legco) elections, Hong Kong's government has threatened to take action against a group of pro-independence candidates.

The warning on Tuesday came as these young candidates are predicted by analysts to possibly win limited seats - an outcome that would be anathema to the central government in Beijing and worrisome to the city's government.

The government statement did not say what action it might take but expressed concern that some candidates had "advocated or promoted" independence of Hong Kong, going against a statutory declaration they have signed.

 
 

Sunday's polls will be the first major election since the Occupy Central movement two years ago that saw thousands of students camping out in the streets to agitate for greater democracy and autonomy - and led to some young activists forming political groups that are now challenging the political establishment.

These newcomers offer an alternative option to Hong Kongers who are frustrated by the pan-democrats who have often stalled government legislation in the name of democracy. They are also likely to fragment the democratic camp, analysts have said.

The young candidates, also known as localists for their desire to preserve local culture and identity, are posing a threat to pro-Beijing candidates too. Analysts say the majority of Hong Kongers dislike the policies of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying's administration. As a result, the middle class or those who have not made up their minds on whom to vote for could spurn the pro-Beijing camp and give their votes to the young candidates.

To counter this, pro-Beijing candidates have vowed to look into hot- button issues concerning young Hong Kongers such as better housing and employment policies. These were issues that had drawn young people to the Occupy movement.

Pro-Beijing's New People's Party candidate Eunice Yung, 39, told The Straits Times she champions better social policies that will benefit young people. "I want to fight for a better future for our youth, especially those in the (lower) middle class. They worry about their future. They want better pay to support their elderly parents, and they feel stressed because they don't even have a house," said Ms Yung, who grew up in a middle-class family.

As for the pan-democrats, the worry is that frustrated Hong Kongers would now be more willing to vote for the pro-independence or localist newcomers.

"We are faced with a situation of too many candidates for too few seats. To a certain extent, it is quite a chaotic situation," said veteran pan-democrat Leung Kwok Hung, 60, an incumbent of New Territories East,which is hotly contested by the localist candidates.

In the last election held four years ago, pan-democrats won 27 of the 70 seats. Sunday's polls could see them losing a few seats to the new candidates, said analysts.

This election also has the highest number of young candidates, with 17 of them aged 35 and below.

Several veteran politicians, such as Ms Emily Lau of The Democratic Party, are said to be making way for younger colleagues by running as second candidates on their parties' lists. They will win seats only if the first candidates receive enough votes for more seats in a proportional representation system.

"I see a new trend of moderate youngsters getting into Legco. With the pan-democrats split into different factions, the results will to some extent be favourable to the government," said political analyst Johnny Lau.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline 'HK govt warns young election candidates'. Print Edition | Subscribe