The Hong Kong District Council is, by its nature, only a consultative body and is, therefore, not considered very important by China. For many years the pro-Beijing camp has spent large sums of money trying to control Hong Kong’s grassroots organizations, including neighborhood associations and owners’ corporations. As a result, Hong Kong’s pan-democracy movement had, for a long time, been on the back foot.
However, the “Umbrella movement” changed Hong Kong’s political environment. The pan-democracy movement and their so-called “Umbrella soldiers” chalked up a small victory in Monday’s district elections, although it has yet to alter the pro-Beijing camp’s stranglehold on 70 percent of the seats within the District Council.
Nevertheless, against the backdrop of numerous oppressive tactics and the buying off of the public by Beijing and the Hong Kong Government, the political awakening brought about by this electoral victory should not be belittled. It is a victory for younger people, a victory for localism and a victory for grassroots workers. It has also provided a direction for the future of Hong Kong politics.
From the point of view of Hong Kong’s pan-democracy movement, the bright spot for localist political parties was the significant victory gained by the Neo Democrats. The party was formed in December 2010 after splitting away from the Democratic Party, the leader of the pan-democracy movement, due to dissatisfaction over concessions ceded to Beijing’s central government liaison office by the party during negotiations over the constitutional reform package.
Following the split, although the Neo Democrats had just over 20 members, it had deep roots within society in addition to a local consciousness.
Two years later at the district elections, although the pan-democracy movement as a whole lost badly and several big-wig councilors lost their seats, the Neo Democrats, which nominated 10 candidates, including Gary Fan (范國威), managed to get eight of them elected to the council. In 2012, Fan was elected as a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council.
In September 2013, more than 300 Hong Kongers signed a joint petition and placed an advertisement in both Hong Kong and Taiwanese publications, with a particular emphasis on Taiwanese media.
The advertisement warned of the “severe Sinicization of Hong Kong,” accused Chinese tourists and immigrants of wreaking havoc and urged Taiwanese to “draw a lesson from Hong Kong” and demanded that the chief executive step down.
Of the 27 pan-democracy movement members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, only two participated in the petition. One was Fan and the other was Civic Party (公民黨) Legislator Claudia Mo (毛孟靜). The two legislators have since become the standard bearers for localist politics within the legislature.
Although they represent a moderate form of localist politics and do not advocate breaking away from Beijing, a small number of individuals from the left-wing, “greater China” faction of the pan-democracy movement have nevertheless labeled Fan and Mo as “fascists” and “prejudiced toward China.”
Although Mo is a member of the Civic Party, much of what she advocates is similar to Fan. Before a vote at the Legislative Council on Wednesday last week — the day after a soccer match between Hong Kong and China at which Hong Kong supporters booed during the shared Chinese national anthem — Mo raised a motion to urge the government to respect Hong Kong’s history and culture, protect Hong Kong from “mainlandization” and maintain Hong Kongers’ unique way of life, unchanged for 50 years.
Together with Fan, Mo was fiercely attacked by the pro-Beijing camp, which accused the two legislators of stirring up conflict between China and Hong Kong. Mo did not stand in Monday’s district elections, but of the 16 candidates fielded by the Neo Democrats, 15 were elected councilors.
However, not all localist parties fared well at the election. Candidates fielded by the radical People Power and Civic Passion parties were all unsuccessful.
Unfortunately, some members in both parties mistook their friends for their enemies and — believing the Democratic Party to be their enemy — advocated voting for the fringe Chinese Communist Party-supporting Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (民建聯) rather than the Democratic Party.
Voters did not approve of such tactics. Leung Kwok-hung’s (梁國雄) League of Social Democrats party (社民連) was also annihilated. The radical “greater China” is still unable to leave behind the Baodiao — defend the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) — movement.
It could be said that splitting from the Democratic Party over the constitutional reform package in order to form a “new way of thinking” has achieved precisely nothing.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Edward Jones
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