Hong Kongers yesterday voted in their most crucial election since the handover from Britain in 1997, the outcome of which could pave the way for a fresh round of political confrontations over Beijing’s control of the territory.
The vote for Legislative Council lawmakers is to test the unity of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, as a new generation of activists, who emerged in the wake of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella movement, joined the race.
They are hoping to ride a rising tide of anti-China sentiment as they challenge formidably resourced pro-Beijing rivals for seats.
Many of the newcomers back the previously unthinkable idea of independence for Hong Kong, which has added to divisions with the broader pro-democracy movement and overshadowed the election.
Hong Kongers feel they have few other negotiating tactics left in their battle for genuine democracy as Beijing takes an increasingly hard-line stance.
“It’s bleak, but I think if China doesn’t leave us to do what we want, I think the only way is to fight for independence,” said Aron Yuen, a 34-year-old college lecturer, as he stood in a line of about 100 other people to cast their ballots.
“You can’t negotiate with somebody who doesn’t keep their promise,” Yuen said.
He planned to vote for the 23-year-old Nathan Law (羅冠聰) who, along with teen activist Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), played a key role leading the 2014 protests. Their party, Demosisto, advocates a referendum on “self-determination” of Hong Kong’s future.
At stake is the power to keep the territory’s widely unpopular Beijing-backed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying (梁振英), and his government in check. “Pan-democrat” lawmakers control 27 of 70 seats, compared with 43 held by lawmakers friendly to Beijing.
The democrats are fighting to keep control of at least a third of the seats, which gives them veto power to block government attempts to enact unpopular legislation, such as Beijing’s controversial election revamp that triggered the 2014 street protests.