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Hong Kong localism and independence

Localism is becoming a force to be reckoned with in Hong Kong politics

The pro-democracy political spectrum is fragmenting, making the general election in September more unpredictable

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 11:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 April, 2016, 12:13pm

The outcome of the Legislative Council by-election on Sunday may not have come as a surprise at first glance. Barrister Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu successfully defeated Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong’s vice-chairman and solicitor Holden Chow Ho-ding to keep the Civic Party seat in the pan-democrats’ stronghold of New Territories East. But the strong showing by a youngster advocating localism speaks volumes for the city’s changing political landscape.

That Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous came third with 20 per cent of the votes may ring alarm bells for Beijing and the Hong Kong government. Not only is the group pro-independence and an advocate of actions deemed extreme in mainstream society, but the 24-year-old University of Hong Kong student has also been arrested for alleged involvement in the riot in Mong Kok in early February.

It is believed that localism used to be confined to a small fraction of society. But Leung, despite facing a rioting charge, managed to grab more than 66,000 votes, higher than the combined count for two moderate veterans in the race. For a youngster without any district work and campaign experience, his performance has taken many by surprise. There needs to be reflection on why tens of thousands have backed someone involved in unrest heavily denounced by the government.

Describing the rise of localism as a warning to the authorities, Leung said the political landscape is now divided among pan-democrats, Beijing loyalists and localists. Whether this is the case remains to be seen. But the outcome of Sunday’s vote and the district council elections last year clearly showed that the latter is a political force to be reckoned with.

It is worth noticing that the so-called “third road” – as opposed to the pan-democrats and pro-establishment – does not have a strong appeal to voters. Ex-Democrat legislator Wong Sing-chi only finished with 17,295 votes, despite getting the vote from Ronny Tong Ka-wah who vacated the seat. Another moderate aspirant, Christine Fong Kwok-shan, trailed far behind Yeung, Chow and Leung with some 33,000 votes.

The Civic Party’s victory means the current balance of power in Legco will be maintained for now. Whether the rise of radical localism will prompt the pan-democrats to become more radical is worth watching. The pro-democracy political spectrum is becoming more fragmented, making the general election in September more unpredictable.