Three weeks to district council elections, Hongkongers may be quietly shunning political extremes

Alice Wu says a survey that shows more people identifying themselves as moderates, rather than with either of the two major camps, brings hope of an end to emotive politics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 November, 2015, 9:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 November, 2015, 9:30am

For what the government is trying to bill as our "big day", the district council election day less than three weeks away, there is eerily little election excitement in the air. Campaign banners are up, candidates are out on the streets passing out pamphlets, but electioneering has been conducted in a much quieter spirit so far.

READ MORE: Coverage of the 2015 district council elections

That comes as a sort of relief as this city has experienced prolonged heightened political drama. Some may worry about the return of political apathy, but the people of Hong Kong are not disengaging. Perhaps they have just chosen to engage in a different way.

When common courtesy can't be found in politicians, meeting in the middle really is impossible

The recent survey released by the think tank Path of Democracy has some very interesting findings. More people have chosen to identify themselves, politically, with the middle ground than those who identify with pan-democrats and pro-establishment combined, About 60 per cent see the need for Hong Kong to have a political culture of "mutual respect", while nearly 54 per cent consider communication with Beijing to be a political necessity.

These figures may surprise some, but they seem completely sensible. When Wong Yuk-man reached new heights in political and social senselessness by asking the chief executive "when will you die?", it is hard for reasonable and decent people to identify with Wong. And even if we found the question to be inappropriate and tasteless, it is hard for us to identity with those who so dramatically reacted to it.

READ MORE: Radical lawmaker Wong Yuk-man set a bad example attacking Hong Kong leader CY Leung

Essentially, what the Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing did, by allowing the question, was to allow the chief executive a chance to respond. More importantly, it was a chance for the public to judge for themselves what antagonistic and vengeful politics actually accomplished.

It is natural that a healthy level of "mutual respect" would be considered by more than half of the survey respondents to be much more politically appealing. It's common sense, after all, because at the end of the day, to get things done in politics, compromise is needed. When common courtesy can't be found in politicians, meeting in the middle really is impossible.

The Path of Democracy survey shows that Hongkongers are not politically apathetic. We may feel politically helpless, especially since political moderates have been pushed out to oblivion by the electoral reform debate. But the results show that there are alternatives to active political engagement.

About 60 per cent of Hongkongers have found a different way to be engaged without being galvanised, to make sound political judgments. That's perhaps the political awakening that perhaps Occupy Central founders didn't plan for. There is people power - where power is derived from head counts - and there is people power, where people find power in thinking for themselves.

Headlines will continue to be dictated by the sensational and issues that are politically charged, but if Path of Democracy's latest survey is pointing to the right path - that Hong Kong people are becoming more politically moderate - then we have every reason to expect a quiet and growing revolt against political knocking-heads. The pendulum is beginning to swing in the direction of quiet reason.

READ MORE: Taunted and exiled: Hong Kong's moderates languish in the political wilderness

So, our "big day" may turn out to be interesting after all. It may, once and for all, be a test of whether emotive politics has had its day. The political wind is changing, the mass of men need not lead lives of quiet desperation. And, hopefully, it will be a signal and call for demoralised moderates who have been compelled to withdraw to the quiet sidelines, to return and to stand up for common sense.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA