HK Legco polls

Hong Kong Legco elections: Localists move overnight from fringe to mainstream

Newly elected legislator Nathan Law thanks supporters during a rally at Causeway Bay.
Newly elected legislator Nathan Law thanks supporters during a rally at Causeway Bay.PHOTO: EPA
Right: Mr Leung, a Youngspiration candidate, won a seat in New Territories East. Below: Ms Yau, of Youngspiration, also won a seat. Bottom: Independent contender Mr Chu won a seat in New Territories West.
Mr Leung, a Youngspiration candidate, won a seat in New Territories East. PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Right: Mr Leung, a Youngspiration candidate, won a seat in New Territories East. Below: Ms Yau, of Youngspiration, also won a seat. Bottom: Independent contender Mr Chu won a seat in New Territories West.
Ms Yau, of Youngspiration, also won a seat. PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Right: Mr Leung, a Youngspiration candidate, won a seat in New Territories East. Below: Ms Yau, of Youngspiration, also won a seat. Bottom: Independent contender Mr Chu won a seat in New Territories West.
Independent contender Mr Chu won a seat in New Territories West.PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

More than a year ago, when some young activists from the Occupy protests of 2014 started organising themselves into political parties, not too many Hong Kongers took them too seriously, seeing them more as a fringe group.

This was because some of them were pushing the envelope by suggesting that Hong Kong separate from mainland China, a move many pragmatic Hong Kongers would not contemplate as it was something that Beijing would not tolerate. The young activists were also not averse to violence, as the Mong Kok riots on the first day of the Chinese New Year showed.

On Sunday, at the Legislative Council elections, the first major polls after the protests two years ago, these young politicians proved that they have become a political force to be reckoned with.

Tipped by pundits to win perhaps two or three seats - the best showing before now by one of their number, Mr Edward Leung, was an encouraging 15.4 per cent of the vote in a by-election in February - they won seven.

Who are these young localists, as they are called for their desire to preserve Hong Kong's culture and identity, and what has brought them this far?

The youngest of them is Mr Nathan Law, 23, a former student leader from Lingnan University.

He founded the party Demosisto in April with the even younger Joshua Wong, who, at 19, is too young to stand for election.

Mr Wong was the face of the Occupy protests, quoted by media both local and foreign.

But it was Mr Law who won the election on Sunday in the six-seat Hong Kong Island constituency after a hard-fought, creative campaign that saw the use of social media in a way older politicians have not done.

Young politicians like Mr Law captured the imagination of even older Hong Kongers.

Award-winning actress Deanie Yip, 68, who spent Saturday campaigning for Mr Law, told The Straits Times she was impressed with his sincerity and courage to fight for Hong Kong and the people of his generation.

Like Demosisto, localist group Youngspiration was founded after the Occupy protest, to continue with the protest's aim of pushing for greater autonomy for Hong Kong and protecting its people's interests against China.

Its candidate, Mr Sixtus Leung, 30, who was elected in New Territories East with 37,997 votes, told the crowd at a rally one week before polling day that it would be "historic" if he were elected.

With a budget of merely HK$200,000 (S$35,000) for his campaign, Mr Leung said he was the poorest contender.

Youngspiration's other candidate, Ms Yau Wai Ching, 25, also won a seat.

Independent candidate Eddie Chu, 38, won a seat in New Territories West with the highest number of votes of over 84,000. A social activist, Mr Chu is known for his campaign to stop the demolition of the old Star Ferry and Queen Pier in 2006.

The localists won also because Hong Kongers were ready for change. "There hasn't been much progress in Hong Kong, so I think we should give the young ones a chance and let them prove what they are capable of," said Mr Ron Ng, 27, a fitness instructor.

Joyce Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Localists move overnight from fringe to mainstream'. Print Edition | Subscribe