HK Legco polls a test for young 'localists'

Supporters of Mr Baggio Leung, one of three candidates from new localist party Youngspiration, at a rally in Shatin on Thursday. Some 3.7 million Hong Kongers will elect a new set of lawmakers tomorrow.
Supporters of Mr Baggio Leung, one of three candidates from new localist party Youngspiration, at a rally in Shatin on Thursday. Some 3.7 million Hong Kongers will elect a new set of lawmakers tomorrow.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

If opposition wins more than half the seats, Beijing has ways to exercise control: Analysts

Even if the opposition camp were to win more than half of the 70 seats in tomorrow's Legislative Council (Legco) election, Beijing is unlikely to reject such an outcome, say analysts.

This is because it could still exercise influence in other ways, such as through the local administration or through the powers of the national legislature.

Some 3.7 million Hong Kongers will elect a new set of lawmakers in the first Legco poll to be held since the 79-day Occupy Central protests in 2014, when thousands - many of them students - camped out in the streets to demand freer elections.

"This election will reflect the legacy of the Occupy movement," said law expert Tian Feilong from Beijing's Beihang University.

"It will be a barometer of the political success of these pro-independence localists."

Given the rise of these young radicals, the central government was naturally worried about the election outcome, said Dr Tian.

 

Hence, a controversial rule was introduced - many believe on Beijing's orders - to require candidates to declare Hong Kong as an "inalienable part" of China. As a result, six pro-independence activists were blocked from standing for election.

The central government could easily employ similar tactics to rein in the Legco if anti-Beijing sentiments were to fester.

Professor Zhang Dinghuai, a Hong Kong affairs expert at Shenzhen University, said he thinks Beijing will not be too overbearing if its sovereignty over Hong Kong is not challenged.

"Beijing is committed to its stance of allowing Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy," he said, "but this has to be under the premise of (the Hong Kongers) respecting the central government."

Some observers predict that the opposition camp comprising pan- democrats and localists could tip the balance to win a majority in tomorrow's polls.

If that were to happen, Beijing will conclude that most Hong Kongers still do not understand its commitment to the "one country, two systems" policy, and it may have more to do in terms of explaining its stance, said Prof Zhang.

Hong Kong-based analyst Lau Siu Kai has a slightly different take.

He thinks Beijing is not so much concerned about the poll result as it is about the young Hong Kongers who will be elected to the Legco.

Professor Lau predicts that the pro-establishment camp could lose seats due to voter discontent but that it will still hold two-thirds of the 70 seats in the Legco. What will be of concern to Beijing is the high number of young and radical Hong Kongers likely to be elected and how difficult it would be to deal with them, added Prof Lau, vice-chair of the Beijing- backed Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.

After the Legco polls, analysts expect Beijing to pay close attention to next year's chief executive election.

"With the possibility of having a larger pro-democracy presence (in Legco), it will require a chief executive with a high degree of political acumen to deal with the deeply divided legislature," said Prof Zhang.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline 'HK Legco polls a test for young 'localists''. Print Edition | Subscribe