A fire under Hong Kong politics
Likening it to Brazilian star Ronaldinho's 'happy football', radio talk-show idol Wong Yuk-man said last week that the League of Social Democrats aspired to introduce 'happy politics'.
Wong, a founding member of the new coalition, urged people not to be so serious about it: critics had suggested that the new group would compete for members with like-minded pro-democracy parties. Wong was speaking as he and about 30 co-founders kicked off with a party in Mongkok last Monday.
Core members include legislators 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung and Albert Chan Wai-yip, district councillors, veteran street activists, unionists, academics, barristers and representatives of youth, social work, women's and gay groups.
They have been widely seen as the radical wing of the pan-democratic camp, championing the interests of the poor and the working class. Members said they did not rule out the possibility of contesting district council and Legislative Council elections.
Wong, the league's spokesman, has lamented the absence of groups to represent grass-roots interests. 'We are unequivocally the opposition camp,' he said.
The new body looks likely to fire up Hong Kong politics. Wong is confident that it will win about 15 to 20 per cent of the vote in elections.
Given all the familiar faces from the pro-democratic radical wing, the new coalition may be dismissed as a headline-grabbing gimmick. Lacking financial and organisational strength, it seems unlikely to become a fully fledged political party in the near future.
Its stance on social and economic policies is markedly different from those of the Democratic Party and the Civic Party. So the league is unlikely to pose a threat to like-minded parties by competing for the same pool of members. That said, the emergence of a coalition of grass-roots activists at a prominent level on the city's political scene reflects deep changes on the social, economic and political landscapes.
Activists such as Mr Leung have long been dismissed as mere symbolic figures, instead of serious players, in politics and the community at large. But, while they may remain at the social and political periphery, their clamouring has increasingly developed a stronger appeal.
The sharp turnaround in Hong Kong's economy and public finances has exposed the depth of grievances and discontent among the lower strata of society, who have not benefited from the prosperity. Worse, they feel increasingly victimised by injustices that have denied them an opportunity to move up the social ladder.
If 'Long Hair's' victory in the 2004 Legco election reflected the rise of grass-roots advocacy, the formation of the new coalition signals the growing momentum of socio-political activism.
Translated into public policies, it means there will be more vocal - if not more powerful - demands on labour issues such as a minimum wage and maximum working hours. We can expect more pressure on the government to ease livelihood burdens, such as public transport fees and electricity tariffs.
On the political front, the coalition represents a co-ordinated force that combines establishment lawmakers with outside activists, fighting for their cause from both inside and outside the political system.
So, in the course of raising public awareness and attention on grass-roots issues, they will become a political force with which the government and other political and business interests have to reckon.
Hong Kong has recently seen the government align itself with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and the formation of the Civic Party. The new League of Social Democrats is yet another sign of seismic changes taking place on the political landscape.
Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large