Election earthquake shows the need to shake up Hong Kong politics
Alice Wu says the landmark results mean Legco will be more fractious than ever, and the need for soul-searching and cooperation across party lines could not be greater
The political earthquake that rocked Hong Kong last week has claimed the political lives of four veteran lawmakers, and left at least four groups in a critical condition. It also midwifed the birth of 26 freshmen lawmakers. The shift in our political landscape is huge, and the aftershocks are not even close to being over.
It’s not going to be “business as usual” for the Legislative Council, and the quicker those in the seats of power in Tamar and Zhongnanhai come to terms with that, the better prepared they will be. But so far – at least from what we’ve heard about the floating of purportedly preferred candidates by the government and liaison office to fill the seat of Legco president – we know they have yet to grasp what they have just been hit with. Maybe it’s shock. Whatever it is, they’ll be jolted out of it soon enough.
The six localists will first exercise self-determination by categorically rejecting anyone preferred by those other than themselves, and especially those preferred by the chief executive or liaison office. And by doing so, the political show will not be confined to within the chamber.
The shock waves of “the six” reverberate beyond the Beijing connection. In addition to the unseating of four veterans, members of the traditional pan-democratic camp will struggle as they try to figure out how they will work alongside the localists.
The foreshocks were present during the electioneering process and the subtle shifts in political lexicon proved to be significant. Benny Tai Yiu-ting’s ThunderGo campaign and the news media had changed the election into a battle between the pro-establishment and non-pro-establishment camps. Their fight for democracy is no longer enough of a rallying call.
Voters whom pan-democrats have traditionally counted on have not only signalled to Beijing, but also to the entire pan-democratic camp, that they are fed up with the way politics is done here, including the way the pan-democrats have conducted their business.
Beijing would be wise to take careful notes on how the traditional pan-democrats are cautiously steering their embattled ships. It’s too early to tell how and when the love-hate relationship will work.
The pan-democrats have plenty of experience, to be sure. They have seen other groups splinter their support base since 2003 and, since then, there has only been more slicing and dicing. The good news perhaps is that it has reached its limit – evident from the need for “strategic” 11th-hour pull-outs by pan-democratic candidates and for strategic voting.
The outlook for cooperation looks grim, but the need for it has never been greater. The development of party politics isn’t just important to the camp, it’s crucial for Hong Kong’s political future. As democratic as the inherent competition present in a multi-party system may be, there comes a point where there are simply too many competing for the same voter base. Oversaturation, without the potential for meaningful coalitions, cripples the political process.
Outgoing DAB lawmaker Ip Kwok-him calls on Hong Kong pro-establishment camp to communicate frankly in next Legislative Council term
The pro-establishment camp faces an uphill battle of its own. Though it enjoys better cohesion and a more loyal voter base, it was not immune from the infighting that has defined the pan-democrats. Just as the latter’s voters grew tired of the ineffectiveness of party politics driven by political elites, so members of the pro-establishment camp must examine why they have yet to garner more public support.
They must prove they can positively influence policymaking. They must be willing to lead and take bold steps in spearheading political reform, beginning with the functional constituencies. Without major soul-searching, they will remain political sitting ducks.
The new Legco is going to be more fractious than ever. Unless all traditional parties rethink, regroup and reinvent themselves, the fractiousness will leave them buried in political rubble.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA