The voters have chosen, and the government must recognise their will
Finding ways to work with the new localists in Legco will be key to the future of the city
Even after some of their more prominent leaders were disqualified from running, young localists did spectacularly well in Sunday’s Legco polls. They now make up roughly half of the directly elected seats previously occupied by pan-democrats.
Their victories signal the localist political agenda is now fully entrenched and will dominate local politics for years to come.
Since the Occupy debacle, officials have repeatedly called on localists to be rational and peaceful. In Sunday’s polls and the lead-up to them, they did exactly that. The large police preparations against possible civil unrest turned out to have been wholly unnecessary.
The government must now recognise the localists’ political legitimacy and find ways to work with those who have not advocated independence or repudiated the Basic Law. After all, if localism means putting local affairs first, who can argue against it? That may be why social activist Eddie Chu Hoi-dick won in the New Territories West, surprising everyone, including himself, with a landslide and collecting more than 70,000 votes. He had fought for the preservation of the old Star Ferry and Queen’s Pier in Central and against the construction of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail. These are perfectly legitimate local/localist issues to fight over.
Meanwhile, other localists such as student leader Nathan Law Kwun-chung, university lecturer Lau Siu-lai, and Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang, have all eaten the lunches of democratic old-timers. Voters who support pan-democratic causes clearly want new blood in Legco. Veterans of the Occupy protests or the Mong Kok riot, the first instinct of these new faces is to be confrontational and mistrustful of the Hong Kong government and Beijing.
But virtually all the localist winners steered away from mentioning independence. Instead, they said they prefer “true autonomy”, whatever that means. Was this a ruse to get into Legco, or a sign of moderation? Most Hongkongers are as opposed to independence as they are to integration with the mainland. We don’t want to be a city-state any more than we want to be another mainland city. The success or failure of the government to work with this new legislature will be a good gauge of where Hong Kong is heading.