'Anti-red' sentiment takes centre stage in Legco election for first time

Parties exploiting fears over influence of mainland culture on city and its core values, a trend that's likely to continue, observers say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2012, 2:44am

For the first time, "anti-red" sentiment has taken centre stage in the city's politics amid the fight for Legislative Council seats - a battle that has mixed debate with mud-slinging - political observers say.

Candidates this year were not above "reddening" their opponents with smear tactics that linked them to the central government. The Civic Party, for one, has adopted the line, "Say no to a red Hong Kong" as its main campaign slogan.

The trend was likely to continue in years to come, the observers said.

The colour red is associated with the Communist Party and the mainland because it is the main colour on their flags. In local political parlance, those opposed to Beijing's influence on Hong Kong are "anti-red".

Political analyst James Sung Lap-kung of City University said the "reddening" tactics used by pan-democrats arose from public suspicion about Beijing's interference in Hong Kong affairs in recent years and fears of the mainland's intrusion into the city's culture.

"From Hong Kong's integration with the mainland to policies such as a quota scheme on cross-border private cars … Hongkongers feel mainland culture is threatening to erode Hong Kong's core values," Sung said.

After a month of electioneering, the Legco seats will be decided tomorrow.

The launch of national education in schools and rivalry between the radical People Power and the Democratic Party, both in the pan-democrat camp, has been the centre of attention.

In televised forums, People Power candidates have accused their Democrat opponents repeatedly of colluding with the mainland by holding closed-door talks at the central government's liaison office in 2010 that resulted in the passage of electoral reforms. The Democrats in turn dubbed People Power "Renminbi Power" following the disclosure that it accepted large donations from the I-Sky Group, founded by an honorary president of the Beijing-loyalist New Territories Association of Societies.

Lingnan University political scientist Li Pang-kwong said infighting among pan-democrats resulted from a rise in "Hong Kong localism", which turned "the 'anti-red' sentiment from an underlying cause in previous elections to an open issue this time".

Li also believed the proportional representation system by which legislators are elected played a part in the smear campaigns seen on the hustings.

"The system encourages splitting votes between slates," he said. "There is bound to be infighting because smaller parties might find it easier to grab votes from their allies rather than from pro-government opponents."