The Chinese national flag flies in front the Legislative Council building in Admiralty on May 21. Photo: May Tse
Alice Wu
Alice Wu

Why Hong Kong’s era of patriots is a reset for all political parties, not just the opposition

  • The district councillors facing the consequences of new oath-taking legislation are not alone
  • The pro-establishment camp is also struggling to remain relevant because, in the new political ecosystem, the centre of power has shifted to the Election Committee
The word on the street is that at least 150 district councillors could be disqualified as early as next month when they are vetted under the new oath-taking rule.
The Hong Kong government seems geared up for action. It appears to have compiled a list of past conduct that would constitute violation of the oath: those who ran in the unofficial primary ahead of the Legislative Council election that was to be held last year, or signed a statement promising to vote down the government’s budget, seem to be sitting ducks. Some have already been arrested while others have called it quits – or even skipped town.

This is not only going to be a blow to whatever remains of this city’s opposition, but also the communities left without representation. The impact of this political existential crisis will be felt far beyond the opposition camp.

The government, for quite some time now, has been talking about requiring district councillors to take an oath of allegiance to the Basic Law. This is not required by the Basic Law but by the national security law. Yet, it is obvious that the government is in no hurry to hold by-elections to fill the resulting vacancies.


‘We do not want unpatriotic people in our political system,’ says Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam

‘We do not want unpatriotic people in our political system,’ says Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam
Months ago, when district councillors started pre-empting the oath-taking requirement by quitting, the government said it had more pressing priorities – like the upcoming three elections for the Election Committee, the Legislative Council and the chief executive, under drastically different arrangements in an electoral overhaul ordered by Beijing – than district council by-elections.

And so, it’s out with the old but not necessarily in with the new when it comes to the city’s 18 district councils. Those who remain in office will have to work out how they’re going to serve the rest of the term amid empty chairs and tables.

District councils are on the line, and while the district councillors still have jobs for the time being, who knows what the future will bring? But then those who stay will have “patriotic opposition” credentials, which may open new doors for them.

The fact is that they are not alone. The pro-establishment camp, too, is going through an existential crisis. The grass-roots and community work that traditional parties have used for decades to build credibility is no longer the determining factor in the calculus of political power.

With district councils sidelined, and the influence that comes with community-based support diluted in the Legislative Council and the Election Committee, pro-establishment parties are scrambling.

They’re struggling on two major fronts. The first is their place in the new political ecosystem in which the centre of power lies in the Election Committee. Securing a place there will prove challenging, and all the while they have to figure out how to deal with the horde of defeated district councillors.

When community work is no longer considered politically valuable, it can break parties like the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Perhaps that’s why we are seeing the DAB run what is essentially a political cram school, with a star-studded line-up of speakers, including former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, teaching governance in a new political era. Maybe Hong Kong’s largest pro-establishment party can reinvent itself as the leading tutoring centre for aspiring patriots wishing to administer this city.

It’s clear that Beijing’s electoral overhaul of Hong Kong is affecting everyone along the political spectrum.

This city’s master of political reinvention, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee – lawmaker, founder and head of the New People’s Party – made headlines recently by donating her diamond Rolex to her party’s lucky draw aimed at boosting Covid-19 vaccination rates. 

Although Ip said that the lucky draw isn’t meant to boost party membership, it is strictly limited to fully vaccinated party staff, party members or “friends” of the party. 

It may not be a recruitment drive for the party; Ip even said that being a “friend” of the party doesn’t require any political commitment. However, Ip has sailed through many a rough sea, and as her party goes corporate and runs its own vaccination lucky draw, it is surely indicative of a new direction. Hong Kong politicians are navigating uncharted waters, and only time will tell what this odyssey will bring. 

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