Hong Kong people have spoken, and it doesn’t bode well for the government

Regina Ip says there is a wake-up call inherent in the Legislative Council election results, with a three-way split set to make a consensus difficult and the success of localists raising the question of how best to deal with separatist sentiments

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 10:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 7:51pm

In the past seven weeks, campaigns for election to the sixth term of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council swept through the city like a wild fire, riveting attention on the more than 100 teams which competed for 40 popularly elected seats – including five so-called “super seats” in the district council functional constituency, in which candidates canvassed votes from over 3.4 million voters throughout the city.

The choice of candidates is widely seen as a proxy for the public’s verdict on the performance of the government

Many candidates ran on slogans and platforms related to Hong Kong’s future – “Finding a way forward for the city”, “Win back Hong Kong!”, “Democratic self-determination”, or “Ensuring continuation of the Basic Law”. In a city yearning for a greater say in the management of its affairs, but lacking the opportunity to elect its chief by universal suffrage, the choice of candidates is widely seen as a proxy for the public’s verdict on the performance of the government.

The overall picture does not bode well for the government. Although the proportion of votes cast for the pro-establishment and opposition camps remains largely unchanged, and several veterans and candidates who ran on an anti-chief-executive platform failed to get elected, several worrying developments cry out for attention.

Despite the best efforts of the pro-establishment candidates, their camp ended up losing two seats – one in geographical constituencies and one in the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency. The reduction of the pro-establishment bloc’s hold in the geographical constituencies (16 pro-government versus 19 opposition) further reduces the chance of the legislature to self-correct by amending the rules of procedure to reduce the abuse of the filibuster.

Leung Chun-ying plays down political divide in Hong Kong as he welcomes new Legco faces

The poor showings of the two pro-establishment challengers in the accountancy and information technology constituencies are worrisome, as they appear to reflect the inability of pro-government candidates to capture the support of constituencies comprised wholly or substantially of individual members. The accountancy constituency is well known to include many young accountants whose remuneration and prospects fall short of those of their seniors by a wide margin. If the discontent of young professionals continues to build up, four years from now, the pro-establishment camp risks losing more seats in functional constituencies with large numbers of young, individual voters.

If the discontent of young professionals continues to build up ... the pro-establishment camp risks losing more seats

As widely expected prior to the elections, voter turnout reached an all-time high of 58 per cent overall (as high as 60 per cent on Hong Kong Island) and the number of young challengers elected exceeded expectations. Twenty-six newcomers were elected (14 in geographical constituencies and 12 in functional constituencies), including seven from the localist or “self-determination” camp. Several of them have already declared that they would not engage the chief executive in face-to-face meetings, or attend coordinating meetings convened by traditional democratic parties.

This means that instead of comprising two major camps, pro-establishment and pan-democratic, the new legislature will be further split, into three blocs – the pro-establishment camp, the traditional pan-democratic camp, likely to be headed by the Democratic Party, and a new “localist or self-determination” group, including several young activists who had taken part in Occupy Central and other protests. The fracturing of the legislature will make it even harder for the government to build a consensus with the opposition.

This rise of the “localist or self-determination” group poses a particularly poignant challenge to the government. They are mostly young people running under the banner of democratic self-determination despite the government’s actions to invalidate candidates who called for “Hong Kong independence”.

Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang, one of the winners from this group in New Territories East, was a proxy for Edward Leung Tin-kei, who was barred from running. It remains to be seen how they will perform in Legco, and whether they have any substance and knowledge other than passion and idealism. But their success poses the question of how best to deal with the rise of separatist sentiments, especially among young people – whether a softly, softly approach aimed at moving hearts and changing minds will work better than a tough, intimidating, legalistic approach.

The rise of Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, the surprise winner in New Territories West who set the record as the single winner with the highest number of votes (84,121), is also a wake-up call to the government. Chu, an environmentalist, animal rights activist and founding member of the Land Justice League, has been best known to the public for his opposition to demolishing Queen’s Pier and construction of the high-speed railway. He was one of the young protesters against the high-speed link who demonstrated outside the old Legco building by kneeling and begging for support.

Exclusive chat with Eddie Chu Hoi-dick after his surprise election win

Chu’s meteoric rise reflects the deep discontent of the young people with Hong Kong’s acute land and housing shortage and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. His success represents widespread public sympathy and support for the underdog. The government would be well advised to heed the warnings before there are further outbreaks of anger on the street.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People’s Party