Let the people choose: new lawmaker aims to turn Hong Kong politics on its head by allowing public to set agenda
Edward Yiu Chung-yim opposes the government’s top-down approach to public consultation in which people just choose one of several options
From associate professor in urban planning to lawmaker, Edward Yiu Chung-yim is taking an experimental approach to politics.
“I believe in bottom-up democracy,” explains Yiu, who won the seat in the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, beating an incumbent who was a strong supporter of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
Yiu shot to prominence even before formally taking office. Together with social activist Eddie Chu Hoi-dick – who scored the most votes of any candidate in the geographical constituencies in the Legislative Council elections on September 4 – they embroiled the Hong Kong government in a political crisis by raising claims of collusion behind a scaled-down rural development plan in Yuen Long.
Before the election Yiu played a more back-seat role, acting as an adviser to student leaders who earlier coordinated the Occupy Central protests.
Now a politician himself, Yiu said he would create his own advisory teams in ways that he said resembled the structure of Podemos, Spain’s populist left-wing party that has gained prominence by campaigning against corruption and inequality.
In essence, Yiu said he was trying to avoid the government’s traditional top-down approach to public consultation that allowed the people to choose only one of a number of options.
He believed individual Hongkongers should be the ones who shaped every step leading to the final product – be it public space design, cultural policies or size of reclamation.
“It all comes down to the government’s mentality,” Yiu said. “If it openly admits it is a coloniser, then it’s fine. But after the British left, the Hong Kong government should work for the Hong Kong people.”
Amid public criticism of the undemocratic nature of the functional constituencies, of which Yiu is now a member, he said sectoral interests would not be his sole consideration.
“A professional is at the end of the day all about ethics. If one gives up public interest in the face of [self-interest], it would be anything but professional.”
One of the social experiments he is pushing is scheduled for November, when at least 100 cyclists will ride along busy roads between Central and North Point.
Yiu put in place his bottom-up approach while teaching at Chinese University’s department of geography and resource management. He had his students take part in projects on issues they chose themselves and submit recommendations to him.
At middle level, professionals would volunteer to help residents deal with technical social problems, such as pricing issues during building renovation projects.
Yiu – who takes his oath as lawmaker in mid-October – has already formed three advisory teams, on ecology, community and cultural policies.
“We are now at a time of rewriting reality. I believe what really matters is how imaginative we can be.”
He now has four years to prove it.