HK pro-democracy parties 'risk losing youth support'

HONG KONG - Despite defeating the unpopular Beijing-backed political reform plan, Hong Kong's mainstream pro-democracy campaigners risk losing the support of young Hong Kongers because of their inability to win concessions from the central government.

Analyst Ma Ngok said: "There will be some groups, especially younger groups, who think that they need to be more radical, more confrontational.

"Mainstream political parties will find it difficult to mobilise young people for the next (district and parliamentary) elections."

Hong Kong's legislature last Thursday voted down 28 to eight the reform Bill that will give its people the right to vote directly for their city's chief executive, but only after a pro-Beijing committee has selected two or three candidates, a feature slammed as "fake democracy".

Last year, thousands of young Hong Kongers occupied key parts of the city for 21/2 months to protest against the candidate vetting, demanding free nominations instead.

However, Beijing stood firm on the vetting process, even after last week's vote against the reform plan, now off the table.

The stand-off over political reforms has caused young Hong Kongers to drift away from China. In the wake of last year's street rallies, they say they identify less as Chinese and have little faith that trying to collaborate with Beijing will lead to the freedom they seek.

"Hong Kongers will distance themselves from China. We don't share a consensus," said student Jamie Wong, 18. "We need to mobilise more people to confront the authorities."

Student Leslie Mak, 19, said she believed "there was still hope" for democracy, but felt an identity shift after the mass rallies. "My feeling about being Chinese is blurring. I feel strongly about being a Hong Konger."

Professor Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong said: "This alienation from the motherland and focus on core Hong Kong values will continue and will win more supporters.

"Now most young people realise they may not see a democratic China within their lifetime, so they want to focus on Hong Kong."

Indeed, the Hong Kong University Students' Union on June 4 broke away from the city's annual Tiananmen Square vigil, holding its own smaller event, saying it no longer agreed with the organisers' strategy to push for democratisation in China as a way to win freedoms for Hong Kong.

But Mr Ma said there is little genuine desire among the city's young to break away from Beijing.

"They feel they were promised harmony... but are seeing more control. It's like a very stringent father. They don't think, 'We are going to form an independent country or an independent state'.

"They just want to be left alone. To put it very simply, they just want to be free."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'HK pro-democracy parties 'risk losing youth support''. Print Edition | Subscribe