Legislative Council elections 2016

Rise of localists in Hong Kong polls set to bring headaches for Beijing, analysts say

Localists emboldened by victory will be in no mood to compromise with government

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 11:27pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 10:15am

The victory of six localists and their securing of nearly 20 per cent of the vote share in the Legislative Council elections will be alarming for Beijing, two academics said on Monday.

Ray Yep Kin-man, a political scientist at City University, and Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political analyst from Chinese University, said they believed the ground gained by localists would further strain the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland authorities.

Six backers of “self-determination” for Hong Kong, including Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang from the post-Occupy group Youngspiration, Occupy student leader Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Polytechnic University lecturer Lau Siu-lai, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick as well as Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai, were returned in geographical constituencies in Sunday’s elections.

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Candidates from localist groups, including those who failed to clinch seats, won a total of 409,025 votes, accounting for 19 per cent of about 2.2 million valid votes cast in five geographical constituencies.

“Beijing must be shocked by the fact that localists were backed by nearly 20 per cent of voters who cast ballots on Sunday. Their vote share must touch a nerve with Beijing,” Choy said.

Youngspiration, which won two seats, will become the third biggest pro-democracy party in the legislature, after the Democratic Party and Civic Party.

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The chamber’s new complexion could mean even more strained relations between lawmakers and the mainland.

Most of the six winners from localist groups are not eager to work with the local or central governments.

When asked what his victory showed Beijing, Baggio Leung said: “It shows Hongkongers are hoping for change and that they want to fight back. It shows they are starting to lose confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law.”

Frederick Fung Kin-kee, the incumbent lawmaker from the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood who was defeated in New Territories West, is one of the few pan-democrats willing to speak to the central government.

In 2010, he, along with leaders of the Democratic Party, held talks with mainland officials on voting reform for the 2012 polls.

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That led to 3.2 million people without a vote in a functional constituency being given a vote in the five so-called “super seats”.

And the poor showing of three candidates advocating a moderate approach to fighting for democracy – including Third Side’s Tik Chi-yuen and two candidates from Path of Democracy – is another testament to the increasing lack of room for moderates in the sharply polarised political landscape.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, founder of the Path of Democracy, said he expected localist lawmakers would gradually overshadow pan-democrats in the political arena.

Yep said Beijing would assess the rise of localists with a negative perspective. “The winners from localist groups will certainly raise the issue of self-determination after they enter the legislature,” he said. “Traditional pan-democrats may not have the political courage to oppose calls by localists to discuss this sensitive issue.

“The central government may feel an urgency to take tough measures to rein in the separatist movement. It may think there is a need to relaunch the legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law in the next few years to safeguard national security,” Yep added.

He said the Hong Kong government would have little incentive to facilitate dialogue between the newly elected legislature and Beijing in the wake of the localists’ victories.

Choy said there was a lack of strong leaders among the pan-democratic and localist camps within the new legislature.

“We can hardly expect pan-democrats and localists to go the extra mile to compromise on political issues with Beijing as the Democrats did in 2010,” he said.

The results look set to create more headaches for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s administration, with lobbying pro-democracy forces about to get a whole lot harder.

Additional reporting by Owen Fung