EDDIE CHU: A Different Kind of Localist

All eyes were on the six new councilors who call themselves localists. The occasion was the swearing-in ceremony for Hong Kong’s new 2016-2020 Legislative Council term. The six are direct descendants of the 2014 Occupy protest movement and they had done what no one initially thought possible … by actually winning seats in last month’s council election (Sept. 8 post).

The six: Sixtus Baggio LEUNG Chung-hang 【梁頌恆】, New Territories East, Youngspiration; YAU Wai-ching 【游蕙禎】, Kowloon West, Youngspiration; CHENG Chung-tai 【鄭松泰】, New Territories West, Civic Passion; Eddie CHU Hoi-dick 【朱凱迪】, New Territories West; Nathan LAW Kwun-chung 【羅冠 聰】, Hong Kong Island, Demosisto; LAU Siu-lai 【劉小麗】, Kowloon West.

All had promised to represent the Occupy spirit of political defiance if elected. But since they don’t all speak with one voice, people are naturally asking how to distinguish one localist from another … and from all others who call themselves pro-democracy partisans.

The Youngspriation group, formed soon after Occupy protests ended in late 2014, has emerged as the strongest (officially permitted) voice. But its convener Baggio Leung didn’t clarify matters much when he said that looking over the newly-elected legislators he could see only three real localists among then, not six (Oct. 5 post).

His elaboration on the need to promote a distinctly separate Hong Kong identity, as the standard for defining a true localist, only provoked more questions and left journalists competing for follow-up interviews he didn’t have time to give.

SWEARING IN: Radical Separatists

Baggio Leung and party-mate Yau Wai-ching provided more answers during the October 12 oath-taking ceremony, when they added some flourishes to the formal vow. This requires councilors to pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and to uphold Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution.

Knowing that it might trigger their immediate ejection from the council, they didn’t actually call for independence. Instead they brought along banners that read simply, in English: “Hong Kong Is Not China.” They also modified the oath accordingly. Why they felt the need to insult and offend as well is for them to explain. Their oaths were declared invalid and their status is pending.

Both chose to recite the oath in English and both did so as required. But they added that they were proclaiming their devotion to the “Hong Kong nation.”  They also deliberately mispronounced the word China. Both called it Chee-na, remembered as an old term derived from the archaic “Shina,” used derisively by the Japanese during their World War II occupation. Additionally, Yau really did swear in and called it the “People’s Re-fucking of Chee-na.”

Other localists recited the oath as required with a few extra flourishes that were deemed acceptable by the presiding officer. Only one other was not. Not counted as one of the six is Functional Constituency councilor Edward Yiu Chung-yim 【姚松炎】.  He represents the architectural, surveying, and landscaping sector.

Taking the oath in Cantonese, Yiu added that he aimed to uphold procedural justice in Hong Kong and continue the fight for genuine universal suffrage. Why this should have been unacceptable remains for the presiding officer to explain. Especially since Eddie Chu was able to get away with declaring: “Democratic self-determination! Tyranny must perish!” *

EDDIE CHU’S ALTERNATE STRAIN OF LOCALISM

During a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club the day before, Chu had some interesting things to say about these different kinds of localists.** Baggio Leung had separated them into two strains based on whether or not they advocated a completely separate Hong Kong identity. Eddie Chu explained more clearly what he also identified as two strains of localist thinking.

He joked that the reason he had been invited to give what he said was his first speech in English was because everyone wanted to know how he, largely unknown outside his suburban New Territories constituency, could have won more votes than any other candidate on September 4. His total was 84,000. Actually, he was already well enough known but only as an environmental activist and unsuccessful District Council candidate.

But besides emerging as the surprise “King of Votes”, Eddie Chu dominated local headlines immediately after the election because of one of his causes. He had alleged a pattern of collusion between the Hong Kong government, New Territories rural landlords, and their organized criminal enforcers. And he had used one proposed development project to prove his point.

Death threats against him during the election were credible enough (after he won so many votes) to warrant ostentatious round-the-clock police protection, elaborate promises of protection from the local kingpins, and dramatic police raids on triad society hangouts in the district. But he didn’t dwell on the combination of circumstances that had turned him into an instant celebrity. Instead, he spoke mostly about Hong Kong’s localist movement and what he thought of Hong Kong’s relationship with Beijing.

He said the 2014 Occupy protest led by the students was a watershed. People were fed up with Beijing’s promises and had lost confidence in the older generation of pan-democrats because they don’t know how to fight effectively for what they want. In contrast, Chu thinks he knows what should be done and he said it was the younger generation that came out to support his election campaign.

If Hong Kong really wants to decide its own future then Hong Kong should focus less on the Basic Law and on Beijing with its National People’s Congress decisions, and think more freely about what Hong Kongers can do for themselves. We need a new mission, a paradigm shift, he said, from the Basic Law and its one-country-two-systems formula that Beijing and Britain arranged for us. The lost momentum of Hong Kong’s democracy movement needs to be revived and he thinks that can be achieved by working toward some form of self-determination.

As he sees it there are a range of options. One is what he called the “right wing” demand of the localist nationalists for independence. But he said he is not with them.  He thinks that’s not the way to go because it would have the effect of trying to distinguish real from fake Hong Kong people.

Instead, he wants democratic self-determination which could mean keeping Beijing’s Basic Law for Hong Kong. He doesn’t mind, and he doesn’t mind taking the oath to defend it … just so long as there can be changes that will allow Hong Kongers to manage their own political lives.

He pointed especially to Articles 158 and 159 of the Basic Law. These, he said, should be amended. They stipulate that the power to interpret and amend the Basic Law is vested in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which means the communist party leadership in Beijing.

As to how such a major change could be achieved, given Beijing’s intransigence so far, he said the only thing Beijing really respects is political power. Hence it’s too soon to talk about how exactly to force Beijing’s hand because Hong Kong’s democracy movement is too weak.

Besides pan-democrats’ lapses in political judgement, he blamed the weakness on something specific: their service-oriented way of working. The political parties all have offices in their constituencies and they tell people come to us. We’ll help you solve your problems. But politicians should be more than social service-providers.

The local party offices need to be transformed into grassroots political power bases and this sort of deliberate activity should extend throughout the community. Hong Kong’s social movement should be transformed into a political movement, one that promotes community-wide political participation. He said the older generation of pan-democrats had left a black hole that the next generation had fallen into and now they must find a way out.

Toward this end, his own reference model is Podemos, the leftist party of dissent in Spain that was founded in early 2014. It has since grown into the country’s second largest political party. Podemos is Spanish for “we can,” inspired by U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan “Yes We Can.” Eddie Chu aspires to something similar for Hong Kong … in the form of a movement for self-determination that is as big and inclusive as possible.

But his idea about community-based political participation should not be an end in itself. It must point upward. The democratic camp had not worked hard enough at building power where political power mattered most, namely, in the Legislative Council. Chu said it matters most there because Beijing cannot ignore the Legislative Council.

In the last election, on September 4, democrats won only 30 seats in the 70-seat council. They should aim for a majority. And they should aim at winning more Functional Constituency seas as well as those directly-elected.

When we have built a strong power base, he said, maybe in four or eight years, after one or two more election cycles, then with a majority in the council, that will be the time to think seriously about how to bring pressure to bear on Beijing. That will be the time to work through the Basic Law’s problems.

Chu’s point is that Beijing understands community-based political power and Hong Kong can use it to overcome the obstacles written into the Basic Law. Otherwise, democrats should not try compromising with the central government … like they did in 2010 (when the result was Albert Ho’s compromise over Legislative Council electoral reform that created the five super-seats and led to nothing else). Negotiate from a position of strength, said Chu, or not at all.

Chu is also not too keen about the idea of holding a popular referendum on Hong Kong’s future. Many political parties (Youngspiration, Demosisto, Civic Passion) have adopted this idea in order to focus public attention on Hong Kong’s fate once the Basic Law’s 50-year shelf life expires in 2047.  A referendum is no threat to Beijing, he said. In his view, only a popular mandate exercised through the Legislative Council will do.

Someone in the audience raised the perennial legal sector’s concern about the danger of trying to amend the Basic Law. If Hong Kong sets the precedent by demanding amendments, Beijing might amend it in the opposite direction and take away rather than grant more rights and freedoms.

Chu said he’s well aware of this concern. But time is pressing. We can’t wait any longer, he said. We’re stuck in this current situation without being able to move forward except in the way Beijing decides. He anticipates more disruption and violence if there is no forward movement. So he would rather take the risk than leave the stalemate to fester as it is.

But that is not his most immediate concern. What he fears most right now is that Beijing will replace the current much-disliked Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying with some more moderate alternative. His term ends next year and the most frequently mentioned possibility in this regard is the Financial Secretary, John Tsang Chun-wah. He might then reintroduce Beijing’s political reform directive that provoked the 2014 Occupy protest and was vetoed by Legislative Council democrats last year … one of the few things they could accomplish with their meagre one-third minority.

Chu fears that democrats could be pressured into passing Beijing’s August 31, 2014 reform directive on a second try because democrats are still too weak. And Beijing by all accounts is determined to reintroduce that directive at the first opportunity.  Democrats might be tempted to agree in return for a more moderate Chief Executive.

He thinks the person occupying the office is not the problem. The problem is the deal itself. That bargain would make the struggle for genuine universal suffrage all the more difficult since Beijing’s 8.31 mandate promises only Beijing-approved candidates as the mainland-style end product of the Basic Law’s long-delayed promise for “universal suffrage” Chief Executive elections.

 

 

* Subsequently Lau Siu-lai’s oath was also declared invalid because she had recited the words too slowly. All were supposed to be allowed to retake their oaths today, Nov. 19, but the Hong Kong government is challenging, in court, the qualifications of the Youngspriation pair.  Loyalist councilors are also staging a walk-out to demand that the two apologize for insulting the Motherland.  Without a quorum, the oath-taking ceremony cannot proceed.

** This is only a summary of Eddie Chu’s remarks. For the real thing, listen to the original:               http://www.fcchk.org/event/club-lunch-hong-kong-self-determination-impossible-or-a-fresh-idea-of-grassroot-democracy/      Also: Apple 【蘋果】and Hong Kong Economic Journal 【信報】, Oct. 12.

 

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on October 19, 2016.

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DIVISION AMONG LOCALISTS

As everyone knows by now, Hong Kong democrats and their movement have always been defined by their disunity. It’s a fact of local political life. The number of pro-democracy political parties represented in the new Legislative Council elected in September 4 tells the tale well enough (Sept. 20 post).  Friends and sympathetic onlookers despair but they’re more-or-less learning to live with it. Benny Tai’s Thunderbolt Plan for strategic voting was only the most ambitious attempt to discipline candidates by trying to concentrate the attention of voters instead.

Now a new generation of democrats has stepped into the spotlight … not necessarily all young but all post-Occupy. The new generation is defined by adherence to the 2014 street-occupation protest movement and its spirit of defiance against the powers-that-be meaning Beijing and the political system it has created for Hong Kong.

The spirit of defiance is so strong that it has swept through the entire pro-democracy movement. Now virtually everyone, parties old as well as new, proclaim themselves intent on defending Hong Kong’s interests first and foremost against the accumulating pressures from Beijing. Unity on something at last. Except that everyone is not necessarily talking about the same thing and specifics are hard to come by. So the next step now that the spirt has been agreed upon is to decide what it means. Differences begin again.

A NEW FAULT LINE

The clearest definition so far has come from newly-elected Legislative Councilor Baggio Leung Chung-hang 【梁頌恆】… that is, the clearest definition coming from among the officially-approved candidates. Baggio Leung dedicated his campaign to independence advocate Edward Leung Tin-kei 【梁天琦】and ran as a stand-in for him in New Territories East after his candidacy was invalidated (Aug. 3 post).  The two campaigned together ahead of the September 4 election and plan to continue their collaboration.

Depending on definitions, 30 democrats of all kinds were elected to the 2016-20 term of the 70-seat legislature. Among them is one fence-sitting Functional Constituency Councilor who says he doesn’t like partisan labels. Of the 29, it is generally agreed that six are “localists” … in Hong Kong eyes the most radical variety of officially-approved pro-democracy partisans.

But Baggio Leung says that in his eyes not all six deserve the localist label. In fact, the number by his reckoning is only three. One of the three is Yau Wai-ching 【游蕙 禎】 councilor-elect for Kowloon West. Like Leung, she is a member of the new post-Occupy group Youngspiration 【青年新政】that shot to local fame after their unexpectedly good showing in the District Councils election last November.

The third is councilor-elect for New Territories West, Cheng Chung-tai 【鄭松泰】. Cheng belongs to the pre-Occupy radical group, Civic Passion 【熱血公民】. Its candidates and their allies didn’t do so well on September 4. They contested in all five constituencies with Cheng Chung-tai the only winner. Losers included Wong Yeung-tat in Kowloon East and Raymond Wong Yuk-man in Kowloon West.

Consequently, the promise reflected in their platform no longer exists, says Cheng (Ming Pao, Sept. 20). They were much criticized by other radicals for accepting the idea that the Basic Law should be kept forever … albeit after a popular referendum to legitimize amendments. But they remain committed to the goal of mobilizing popular support for basic political change

These three may represent the cutting edge of post-Occupy politicians, but they are not the youngest student-leader generation. Baggio Leung is 30; Yau, 25; Cheng, 32, is a university lecturer with a degree from Beijing University. Disqualified independence advocate, Edward Leung Tin-kei of the group Hong Kong Indigenous 【本土民主前線】 is 25.

Baggio Leung explained his reasoning. Even though all six say they are committed to democratic self-determination, he says only the three focus sufficiently on the need for a separate Hong Kong identity.

In contrast, New Territories rural reformer Eddie Chu and Joshua Wong’s Demosisto party, seem satisfied to define democratic self-determination as a high degree of autonomy only, without the specific focus on Hong Kongers unique experience that sets them apart from the mainland. Community organizing may be necessary but it will not be sufficient if Beijing, and the 2047 future, and Hong Kong’s separate identity do not signify in the localist frame of reference.

Leung said this means that ‘a line should be drawn between those who can vote and those who can’t in the referendum’ (Standard, Sept. 22). He was referring to the popular vote that several localist groups say should be held in a few years’ time to determine Hong Kong’s post-2047 future … when Beijing’s official 50-year guarantee for Hong Kong expires.

The guarantee to maintain Hong Kong’s existing way of political life is written into Article 5 of its Basic Law, which was promulgated by Beijing in 1990 to serve as Hong Kong’s governing constitution during the first 50 years of Chinese rule following the British departure in 1997.

Leung currently hesitates to elaborate on the idea of independence, at least not now before he is formally sworn in as a legislator. The authorities have warned them of unnamed consequences should any of the newly-elected legislators violate the formal nomination agreement to uphold Hong Kong’s current Basic Law political system.

He nevertheless anticipates that he will not be allowed to run again in 2020 because of the separatist campaigning he aims to do between now and then (Ming Pao, Sept. 19).

But he says that to continue to strive for universal suffrage elections, as promised by the Basic Law, is in effect a contradiction in terms. This is because the right to control universal suffrage elections has been and can continue to be usurped by the government. Candidates can always be disqualified for their political beliefs as happened to Edward Leung ahead of the September 4 election.

Baggio Leung now sees the simple quest for universal suffrage elections that has sustained Hong Kong’s democracy movement since the Basic Law was promulgated as an exercise in futility and one no longer worth pursuing. It is futile without a more fundamental shift in Hong Kongers awareness of themselves as a separate community.

Last summer, soon after the Hong Kong government introduced the new confirmation form addition to candidate qualification procedures (July 22 post), he explained his views to a sympathetic interviewer who quoted him as saying: ‘Our beliefs and plans are based on civic or liberal nationalism. Without a shared identity, a referendum would not be representational. By the time the referendum is complete, the candidates at the Chief Executive election in 2022 will be under significant pressure to either represent Hong Kongers or continue to be China’s cronies, the latter will surely trigger the nerves of Hong Kongers then as the sense of identity would be strong enough to bring substantial consequences.’ *

Localists trace the origins of Hong Kong’s current impasse to the Sino-British negotiations over its future, or more specifically to the successful maneuver by Beijing that set the stage for those negotiations. When Beijing replaced Taipei as China’s United Nations representative, Beijing demanded that Hong Kong be removed from the UN’s list of colonies. This was done in 1972.

Thereafter, since it was not a colony, Hong Kong could not claim the internationally recognized right to self-determination or self-government after the British left in 1997. That lost right to self-determination lies at the heart of the localist argument.

In more immediate practical terms like cooperation among the new 2016 class of democratic legislators, the first order of business was to try and revive the custom of a coordinating platform to replace their weekly lunchtime meetings. That custom has had a checkered history but got off to a fairly good start. Almost everyone agreed to join including two pre-Occupy radicals who didn’t participate in times past: “Long Hair“ Leung Kwok-hung 【梁國雄】and People Power’s Raymond Chan Chi-chuen 【陳志全】

Not participating in the preparations, however, were Baggio Leung’s three “genuine” localists. He and Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai declined the initial invitation. Yau Wai-ching said she didn’t receive one.

The fence-straddling Functional Constituency legislator is medical doctor Pierre Chan Pui-yin 【陳沛然】. He is now calling himself a centrist inclined toward democracy. He agreed to join the democrats’ new platform but he has also joined the WhatsApp group that coordinates for pro-establishment legislators.

CONTRARIAN DISSENT

Baggio Leung and his friends are setting the pace with their search for a separatist Hong Kong identity. But they couldn’t carry on for long without provoking a backlash … and not just from without but from within as well.

Beijing has so far said nothing of post-election significance to address the new level of separatist dissent, except for a standard blast from its Hong Kong liaison office legal affairs expert Wang Zhenmin 【王振民】.   He gave a post-election luncheon talk during which he dismissed the new separatist wave saying Hong Kong would never be independent not even in as thousand years.

Wang’s comments suggested just how unprepared to address Hong Kong’s new political realities Beijing seems to be since he conjured up the most irrelevant of taunts. He said Hong Kongers have become disoriented by China’s rise and are fearful of being overshadowed by the mainland’s success. He also said that Hong Kong and the mainland share the same fate, which can never change, and the mainland cannot but influence Hong Kong (Ta Kung Pao, South China Morning Post, Sept. 23).

Much closer to home and of more immediate interest is the view of veteran critic Wong On-yin 【王岸然】. He is an Occupy sympathizer and dislikes pre-Occupy pan-democrats. He has long been critical of the Democratic Party leadership’s meandering political drift (June 14, 2011 post).  And he is scathing in his opinion of those who carry on with their 25-year-old slogans about building a democratic China and ending one-party dictatorship (June 5, 2015 post).

He now contrasts their focus on the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Beijing, compared to the distance that the older pre-Occupy generation maintains between itself and its post-Occupy successors. He says the older generation has already forgotten the events of 2014 that he regards as the start of a new chapter in HK’s democracy movement.

But Wong On-yin is not too keen on the idea of Hong Kong self-determination either, at least not in the form being expressed by what he regards as some current band-wagon enthusiasts.

He’s not worried about those who understand that it’s going to take time to overcome the handicap represented by a majority of Hong Kongers who remain “apathetic and indifferent to politics.” He ranks newly-elected legislator for Kowloon West, Teacher Lau Siu-lai, 【 劉小麗】among those with a more sober view of the need to build community participation first before talking about political self-determination.

Presumably, Wong is not similarly impressed with Lau’s Youngspiration colleague Yau Wai-ching, also just elected in Kowloon West, because she seems to be among those he wants to warn.

In any case, his new targets are those who he says are calling for amendments to the Basic Law and popular referendums to decide on Hong Kong’s post-2047 fate. He complains that they are getting ahead of themselves … without appreciating the serious obstacles that those goals must overcome if they are ever to be achieved.

His point is that just as the older generation has been living off the June Fourth slogans for decades, so now the younger generation is taking up a new cause, distracted by its idealism, but without due regard to practical realities.  He is one of those forever lamenting failure and he says he doesn’t want the new generation to be cheated out of their vote like his generation has been.

What bothers Wong are some newly elected young post-Occupy activists who “are trying to divert public attention from the pressing unfinished business of fighting for democracy by pushing for self-determination and amendments to the Basic Law come 2047.” **

His points about both the past and present generations are well-taken. Or they would be if he had explained what he means by democracy and how the younger generation can fight for it without acknowledging the single greatest obstacle to its achievement.

In fact, whatever their faults, both generations are correct. It is Beijing that represents the single greatest threat to their ideals. And it’s Wong who still seems to be thinking in the old pre-Occupy way, assuming that democracy fighters here have the luxury of carrying on indefinitely in a sealed off environment free of mainland political interventions.

 

 

* “Localism: From Street Protests to Council Chamber – Youngspiration,” series, part 2, Real Hong Kong News (Civic Passion online publication), July 19, 2016.

** Discussion here based on two articles in 信報 (Hong Kong Economic Journal), Sept. 21, 27 (print version, Chinese); and “Self-determination idea nothing but a ‘concept stock’,” ejinsight, Sept. 29 (online, English).

 

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Posted by Suzanne Pepper on October 5, 2016.

 

 

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THE VOTERS HAVE SPOKEN … but is anyone listening?

Hong Kong’s September 4 Legislative Council election was an unexpected triumph for the new cutting edge of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. The questions on all minds now are whether the message registered in Beijing and if so, what might be the response from so hardline an administration as that currently led by President Xi Jinping. Unreformed loyalists say he cannot be seen to waver … it’s a matter of Chinese sovereignty. Others say if something doesn’t change, Hong Kong will become impossible to govern.

VOTE COUNT RE-CAP

Calculations vary, depending on political definitions, as to who won and by how much. If all democrats of every persuasion are lumped together according to the old way of reckoning, they won 59.7% of the individual votes cast for the Geographic Constituencies. Pro-Beijing loyalist and pro-establishment conservatives won 40.3% (Apple, Sept. 7).

According to South China Morning Post calculations: pro-establishment candidates won 40.25% of the vote; traditional pan-democrats 27%; localist and radical democrats (presumably including both new localists and old radicals) won 27.6%; breakaway (from the Democratic Party and Civic Party) moderates won 5% (SCMP, Sept. 6).

THE MESSAGE

Amid all the political divisions, the most basic result was the message sent by the sum total of candidates and voters. The political direction was clear enough. Pro-establishment loyalist forces failed to secure Beijing’s hoped-for two-thirds veto-proof majority in the Legislative Council. This they needed not just to revive Beijing’s 2014 political reform directive, but also to put an end to filibustering.

Democrats have hit upon this tactic as their only defense against the pro-establishment majority, although most recently a pro-establishment medical representative used the tactic to similar effect. A two-thirds majority vote is needed to change Legislative Council rules that allow filibustering

More striking were the unexpected victories of young candidates from the 2014 Occupy protest movement. Nor were these post-Occupy candidates all young or even all post-Occupy newcomers.   But their message grew out of that movement, coalesced during the 79 days they were camped out on the streets debating democracy, and has been strengthening during the two years since.

Six of the democratic camp’s new class of 19 directly-elected legislators identify themselves as localists: intent on emphasizing first and foremost Hong Kong’s own political, social, and economic interests. Their new rallying cry is Hong Kong self-determination and the six are augmented by two new Functional Constituency legislators of similar persuasion.

These eight councilors represent the acceptable (in official eyes) face of Hong Kong’s new post-Occupy political mood. Another five were deemed unacceptable and banned from the election contest for advocating outright Hong Kong independence (Aug. 3 post).

Further strengthening this new wave are what’s now being called the “traditional” democrats. All the main pre-existing parties have also adopted “self-determination” as their political aim … although they have yet to explain exactly what they mean by the term.

But the concept among members of the new post-Occupy generation is being used to distinguish themselves from the pre-Occupy generation’s acceptance of the official “one-country, two-systems” formula designed by Beijing to govern Hong Kong’s post-colonial life under Chinese rule.

Whatever that formula was originally intended to mean, it is now being used by Beijing and its Hong Kong allies in what looks and feels like evolution toward one-country, one-system.

The new wave of Hong Kong’s democracy movement uniformly defines itself as intent on holding the line against evolution toward one system or what everyone now refers to as mainland-ization 【內地化】.

Political Parties, traditional (and number of legislators just elected):

Democratic Party, 民主黨 (7)

Civic Party, 公民黨 (6)

Professional Commons, 公共專業聯盟 (2)

Labour Party, 工黨 (1)

People Power, 人民力量 (1)

League of Social Democrats, 社會民主連線, (1)

Neighborhood, Workers Service, 街工 (1)

Civic Passion, 熱血公民 (1)

 

New Post-Occupy Parties:

Younspiration alliance (AllinHK), 青年新政 (2)

Demosisto, 香港眾志 (1)

Civic Passion is the most radical of the pre-Occupy parties and its one legislator is counted together with the post-Occupy localists. Two other new localists are non-party independents.

The total calculation of 30 democrats in the new 2016 Legislative Council was made with the addition of a Functional Constituency independent, Pierre Chan, representing medical doctors (Sept. 8 post).  Despite the pro-democracy signals he sent out while campaigning, Apple Daily (Sept. 6) counts him separately … to give democrats a total of 29 legislators in the 70-seat council.

FIRST RESPONSES

In Beijing, the powers that be will no doubt take some time to absorb the election’s impact and decide on a response. But here in Hong Kong, while we wait, a few opinion-leader loyalists have had some unexpectedly accommodating things to say.

These Hong Kong loyalist voices can usually be relied upon to reflect Beijing views on local democratic defiance in whatever form it takes on any given day. But for now, at least, they seem to accept that the defiance they usually deplore has been transformed into something legitimate by its passage through the ballot box.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has risen from the depths of defeat after her abortive campaign to promote Article 23 national political security legislation in 2003. She was then a civil servant and Secretary for Security. Now a successful pro-establishment legislator representing Hong Kong Island, she was just reelected with the highest number of votes in the constituency.

In her regular South China Morning Post Sunday column, Regina Ip wrote that the success of separatist candidates with their demands for democratic self-determination poses a real challenge for those deciding how best to deal with them, that is, whether to go softly or adopt a “tough, intimidating, legalistic approach.”

She understands the consequences. After her tough, intimidating, legalistic 2003 approach, half-a-million people hit the streets in protest and she beat a hasty retreat to California where she spent three years studying government and politics.

Of rural reform advocate Eddie Chu’s unexpected success in the New Territories, she wrote that his victory “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” (SCMP, Sept. 11).

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a denier of Hong Kong pro-democracy activism dating back to its origins in the 1980s, said during a radio interview that the September 4 election should allow mainland authorities to better understand Hong Kong sentiments and dissatisfaction with the government.

Now speaking from the vantage point of a mainland-sponsored think tank, Lau noted that the central government had shown itself to be more actively concerned with protecting its own core values and sovereignty than catering to Hong Kong interests (SCMP, Sept. 11).

Still, from Beijing’s perspective, there might be a silver lining. During the same radio interview, Lau noted that the newly popular advocates of localism were at least not calling for an end to “one-party dictatorship” like the old pan-democrats with their memories rooted in the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Lau said this new localist orientation might just help to realize the original “one-country, two-systems” ideal. It had been promoted by mainland officials who liked to quote the old saying about river water not mixing with well water 【河水不犯井水】. This was used by Chinese officials to mean that Beijing would not meddle in Hong Kong but Hong Kong also should not try to bridge the 1997 divide with any notions about democratizing China … which is, of course, just what “end one-party dictatorship” aspires to do (Ming Pao, Sept. 11).

Another post-election commentator was Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, long-time loyalist leader, founder of the main pro-Beijing political party, and often mentioned as a possible successor to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.  During a post-election interview, Tsang said that if Leung is allowed to serve a second term, which will begin next year, and if he doesn’t change his (tone deaf) way of dealing with Hong Kong’s radical protest movement, his second term would be a bad thing for Hong Kong (TVB, Straight Talk, Sept. 13).

Finally, James Tien Pei-chun made the startling statement that the credibility of Hong Kong elections is at stake. Tien is a founder of the pro-business Liberal Party and a long-time (just retired) pro-establishment legislator, albeit one with an undisciplined political streak.

He played a major role in Regina Ip’s 2003 debacle when he made the decision to withdraw Liberal Party legislators’ support for the Article 23 national security bill, thereby depriving it of the votes needed for passage.

During a post-election radio interview last week, Tien questioned whether Beijing’s Liaison Office here was exceeding its purported liaison mandate since it had been so openly meddling in Hong Kong’s election. He said Beijing needs to determine whether mainland personnel have gone beyond their prescribed role to make the Liaison Office an “executive department in Hong Kong” (SCMP, online, Sept. 14).

Tien was discussing the case of Liberal Party member Ken Chow Wing-kan who had been a candidate in the New Territories West constituency. Chow withdrew from the race a few days before the election claiming pressure to do so from people in high places (Aug. 29 post)

Chow then dramatically flew to England to avoid being here during the election and retuned afterword to tell the fuller story at a press conference on September 7.  He said that mainlanders in Shenzhen and Liaison Office personnel here had been instrumental in pressuring him, with some added suggestions from local enforcers, to withdraw from the race.

Their motive was to promote the chances of pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho Kwan-yu who was competing for the same pool of conservative New Territories voters (SCMP, Ming Pao, Apple, Sept. 8).

James Tien gave credibility to Chow’s story … that loyalists including both Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Jasper Tsang Yok-sing have done their best to debunk … by recalling that he, too, had been lobbied by Liaison Office personnel. They wanted Tien to convince Chow to withdraw from the race because he could not win but could take votes from their man Junius Ho.

Ho was the weakest of the winning candidates in New Territories West. Chow, whose name was still on the ballot, received 1,500 votes despite his high-profile withdrawal. Junius Ho took the last of the nine seats in NTW with a margin of only about 6,000 votes.

Liaison Office calculations were correct.  A few thousand votes less, which Chow might well have absorbed from their common voter base, could have deprived Junius Ho of victory and allowed long-time labor leader Lee Cheuk-yan to win the ninth seat.  Ho:  35,657 votes; Lee:  30,149.

These four individuals … Regina Ip, Lau Siu-kai, Jasper Tsang, and James Tien … have good to excellent Beijing connections. In different ways they have all expressed themselves on aspects of Hong Kong’s September 4 election that the pro-Beijing media has been careful to avoid repeating. Editors are no doubt waiting for Beijing’s response … looking for signals to suggest that Beijing might be thinking about modifying its head-in-the-sand approach to the challenges it now faces here.

 

hkfocus2017@gmailcom

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on September 20, 2016.

 

 

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ANOTHER POST-OCCUPY ELECTION

When Hong Kong university students were planning their strike action in September 2014, to protest Beijing’s hardline rejection of Hong Kong’s electoral reform proposals, the students defended their decision by saying they knew their strike wouldn’t move Beijing. But they wanted to use their protest to “wake up” Hong Kongers.

They wanted to focus on the issue in question and use it to explain the importance of elections and voting, and why Beijing’s insistence on vetting candidates was not the way Hong Kong should conduct elections.

Then when their strike led to the Occupy street blockades and 79 days later, after public sympathy with their protest had long since waned, the students returned to their campuses dispirited by their failure. They and most everyone who talks about that time has continued to focus on failure because the occupiers had ultimately been forced to retreat with nothing to show for their effort.

Now it’s clear that they didn’t fail. The public was listening. It just took a while for the effect to register. And appropriately enough, the change in public attitudes can even be measured … not in any opinion poll but by the three elections that have been held since the last of the street blockades was cleared in December 2014.

REBUILDING CONFIDENCE

The following summer, a few Occupiers resolved to test their insights and ideas by putting them to use in the November District Councils election.  But so intimidated were these novice campaigners … by all the negative publicity surrounding the 79-day disruption to daily life they’d caused … that the Occupier candidates decided to play down their protest past. They said they would only speak about it if asked. Otherwise they didn’t want to advertise themselves or volunteer anything about the Occupy experience unless their street-corner campaigning inspired direct questions from passersby.

They were as surprised as everyone else when they did far better than expected. Some had formed a new group they called Youngspiration 【青年新政】 and one of its members actually defeated an incumbent pro-establishment council chairman.

There were several other surprises, and near successes, and nothing to suggest anyone needed to hide their Occupy past. On the contrary, they were rewarded for it as voters learned about them and their backgrounds during the campaign. Rough estimates suggested these newcomer post-Occupy candidates received around 70,000 votes (Nov. 26, 2015 post).

Another surprise came from the February by-election held to fill the Legislative Council seat vacated by Ronny Tong in New Territories East. He had resigned in protest over what he saw as the excessive radicalism of the democracy movement as a whole, and resigned from the Civic Party as well.

Youngspiration initially said its members wanted to join the by-election race but then agreed to join all other pan-democrats in standing aside. They allowed the Civic Party’s choice to stand as the democratic camp’s sole candidate … rather than split the democratic vote and risk losing to the pro-Beijing competition.

Odd man out was a new post-Occupy name, Edward Leung Tin-kei, from a new group called Hong Kong Indigenous. They had some wildly radical ideas about “valiant” violent resistance and something that he didn’t actually call independence but sounded very much like it to Beijing and the Hong Kong government’s election overseers.

They blocked his campaign pamphlets by refusing to allow their distribution by mail. He had to be satisfied with distributing them on street corners instead. And he refused to heed the democratic camp’s pleas to stand down.

Not only that but he and his friends deliberately provoked an episode of “valiant resistance” ostensibly to “protect” hawkers from police patrols at a Lunar New Year street market. What could be more offensive to Hong Kong sensibilities than violence on the first day of the Lunar New Year?!

Yet as his campaign unfolded, it became apparent that he had something to say and people were willing to listen. Against all custom and conventional wisdom, he received 66,000 votes, about 15% of the total cast in that election. And the Civic Party’s candidate won in spite of the votes Leung syphoned off the democracy camp’s share {Mar. 2 post)

ELECTION DAY

For the post-Occupy generation, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. Turnout was the highest ever recorded at 58% of registered voters. Some two million people cast their ballots last Sunday, September 4, and some of them had to wait in line until the small hours of Monday morning to accomplish their task.

Partly to blame about the expectations was the HKUPOP poll that seemed designed to enhance conservative prospects. The net impact of the day-to-day rolling poll for the month before the election was to strengthen the ratings of well-known pro-establishment conservatives and pro-Beijing candidates while leaving most of the unknowns and newcomers struggling to pass muster at the bottom of the pack {Aug. 29 post).

Then at the very end,  on Election Day itself, came the unexpectedly disruptive effect of Benny Tai’s Thunderbolt Plan. Probably if Professor Tai gets any more bright ideas the founding father of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement is going to be treated to even more brickbats than his latest scheme has received since he introduced it early this year (June 27 post).

As his detractors acknowledged, at least he meant well. After his ideas about candidate and voter coordination fell on deaf democratic ears, his next idea was to encourage voters to think and choose strategically in terms of who could win rather than who they liked best. This isn’t a new idea.

A custom known as pei piao 【配票】or coordinated voting developed informally after the post-1997 government insisted on switching to proportional representation in order to guarantee success for what used to be disadvantaged pro-Beijing candidates. Family members and friends watch the polls and then just before Election Day get together and decide how best to divide up their votes to try and maximize the effect… for candidates most in need who can benefit most.

But Benny Tai had about 40,000 followers for his smart-phone Thunderbolt-Go scheme by Election Day and the effect was far more dramatic than the informal custom played out among family and friends.

Toward the end, he placed full-page ads in Apple Daily saying he was coordinating with the HKUPOP polling operation.  But his scheme was initially intended to be a sharing of preferences among his own self-selected participants.

Then on Election Day itself, he sent out two messages, morning and evening, the first suggesting which candidates to abandon. In the evening, when he decided he had probably gone too far, he advised not to abandon them all after all.

Benny Tai owes everyone an explanation, which he tried to provide yesterday saying it didn’t go as he had planned. His Occupy Central idea didn’t turn out the way he planned either. Professor Tai is a law professor but he obviously hasn’t given much thought to the law of unintended consequences.

Meanwhile, the net result of all the uncertainties … unprecedented in degree due to the unprecedented number of candidates plus the multiple polling effects … was to write a premature end to many newcomers’ candidacies and many old-timers’ careers … and pave the way for a new generation of post-Occupy activists to make their presence felt in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

Among those abandoned were veterans of Hong Kong’s democracy movement who dated back to its beginnings: the Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan and Cyd Ho, and Frederick Fung long-time leader of the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood. All three are old generation grassroots activists.

Besides those who fell beneath Benny Tai’s bar, several of the superfluous candidates finally saw the light and withdrew of their own accord just days before the election. This, too, was  unprecedented.

Those who stood down before Election Day included two Hong Kong Island candidates and three from the over-burdened super-seat lists. These last minute drop-outs did not include the Liberal Party’s Ken Chow who had withdrawn from the race a few days earlier claiming candidate intimidation … also unprecedented (Aug. 29 post).

A NEW GENERATION

The most striking result, however, was the unanticipated success of five new-generation post-Occupy activists: one on Hong Kong Island; two for Kowloon West; and one each for New Territories East and West. They are all committed to Hong Kong localism in terms both of grassroots social concerns and political self-determination.

Candidates advocating independence had already been officially disqualified (Aug 3 post).  These included Edward Leung Tin-kei who might actually have won a seat, according to the HKUPOP preliminary polling. By self-determination for Hong Kong the new breed of post-Occupy localists mean resisting the inroads of “mainland-ization” … or mainland-style ways and means into Hong Kong’s political life.

How this new generation might set themselves apart from pre-Occupy generation activists of similar bent remains to be seen. But in terms of their political inclinations, they should augment the strength of five returning pre-Occupy radical legislators: Long-Hair Leung Kwok-hung, People Power’s Raymond Chan, the Civic Party’s Claudia Mo, Labour’s Fernando Cheung, and Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai (new face, pre-Occupy party).

A second important result of the elections is that despite all the chaos the democratic camp was able to hold the line. Democrats … counting all varieties … not only held onto their one-third veto-proof minority but actually strengthened it: by all of one new seat in the Geographic Constituencies (Kowloon West), and two new Functional Constituency seats (medical and architecture). Unexpectedly, there were no losses (full lineup, all winning and losing lists, vote counts: SCMP, Sept. 6).

Nevertheless, as expected, the Legislative Council’s intricately crafted design and the organized strength of pro-Beijing forces kept actual changes to a minimum.

Total votes cast in the Geographic Constituencies were 2.2 million with 871,866 or 40.3% going to pro-establishment candidates, and 1,289,643 votes or 59.7% for pro-democracy candidates of all kinds. The latter included about 5% received by the new centrist splinter parties (Path of Democracy and Third Way), and 19% for the new localist post-Occupy candidates (calculated from official Electoral Affairs Commission statistics, Apple, SCMP, Sept. 7).

LEGCO, 2012-16

 

GEOGRAPHIC 35 18 democrats 17 others
FUNCTIONAL 30 6 24
SUPER-SEATS 5 3 2
TOTALS 70 27 43

 

 

LEGCO, 2016

 

 

GEOGRAPHIC 35 19 democrats 16 others
FUNCTIONAL 30 8 22
SUPER-SEATS 5 3 2
TOTALS 70 30* 40

 

 

POST-ELECTION NOTES

 

In the end, Hong Kong Island bore only passing resemblance to the results anticipated by the HKUPOP poll (Aug. 29 post).  Former Secretary for Security Regina Ip didn’t receive enough votes for two seats, although she did receive the highest vote total in the constituency.

More surprising was the fate of Ricky Wong with his popular ABC … “Anyone but CY” slogan. His ratings had held steady throughout the month of polling and he seemed a sure bet. Dislike for Chief Executive CY Leung may have been enough to win a thumbs up from respondents in passing.   But when it came time to vote other considerations took hold. He received only 33,000 votes compared to her 60,000.

Perhaps it was his widely publicized performance during a televised forum where he called her, to her face, a “little piece of shit.”   Or maybe once voters had more time to consider his platform they decided he wasn’t much of a democrat and his brand of businessman’s bravado wasn’t quite what they were looking for in a candidate.

Two other surprises came in the form of two pro-democracy candidates who had seemed to have no hope at all. The Democratic Party’s Ted Hui benefited from two kinds of promotion, one old the other new. His party raised the “emergency alarm,”  alerting voters to his plight, and sent out two venerable surrogates to campaign on his behalf: Party founder Martin Lee and Anson Chan.   Benny Tai also tapped him on Thunder-Go. He did the same for Nathan Law who at 23 has just become the youngest person ever to serve in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

Joshua Wong had wanted to run on the students’ new Demosisto party ticket but he isn’t old enough.  So party convener Nathan Law ran instead. He is one of the three student leaders, including Wong, who have just been found guilty of the illegal assembly that precipitated the Occupy movement in 2014. But Law got off with community service and thus escaped the prison sentence that would at least temporarily have derailed his budding political career. HKI line-up: 3 pro-democracy; 3 pro-establishment.

 In another first, Kowloon West is the first constituency ever to have an all-female line-up: 4 pro-democracy; 2 pro-establishment. The democrats include two incumbents and two new post-Occupy localists. The incumbents: Claudia Mo, Civic Party; and Helena Wong, Democratic Party. Post-Occupy localists: the popular “Teacher” Lau Siu-lai and Youngspiration favorite Yau Wai-ching, one of the original young candidates who set the pace in last November’s District Councils election.

But even more noteworthy in Kowloon West is who isn’t there: Raymond “Mad Dog” Wong Yuk-man. He was running for re-election and the rebellion against him that flared during an election forum (Aug. 29 post) continued afterward. Spearheading the revolt was another KNW candidate, Jonathan Ho Chi-kwong, from a group calling itself Hong Kong Localism Power with virtually no following in the district. He won only 399 vots.

Among other things, Jonathan Ho took out full page ads in Apple Daily listing all the grievances against Wong and urging people not to cast even a single vote for him. Among the many sins listed was his support for Civic Passion’s successful bid to defeat Albert Ho in last year’s District Councils election thus paving the path upward for hardline pro-Beijing lawyer Junius Ho. In defeat, Wong didn’t try to deflect blame. He said he had made too many enemies..

Kowloon East is locked in place, so much so that pre-election polling for this district reflected perfectly what the results would be: 3 pro-establishment; 2 democrats. Civic Passion’s Wong Yeung-tat made a valiant attempt to break the mold but failed again, as have others before him. KNE is now home base for pro-Beijing forces. They have enough votes for at least three seats and can always see to it that their candidates receive the support necessary to secure election.

One reason observers had difficulty predicting the outcome in New Territories West was that most people in town don’t keep up with suburban/rural politics. Consequently everyone missed the biggest rising star of the entire election, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick. He won the title “King of Votes” for receiving the highest number, 84,121, in the Geographic Constituencies.

Chu is a rural reformer and environmentalist who heads a group called Land Justice League. He’s also a former Ming Pao Daily investigative journalist who has declared the powerful rural council, the Heung Yee Kuk with all its land-owning rural kingpins, to be his main target.

One of their friends is the pro-Beijing lawyer Junius Ho who also succeeded in his bid to represent NTW. He was honest enough to thank Beijing’s liaison office for its help in supporting his campaign (Apple, Sept. 6).

Something about the nature of the help he received is also now known, thanks to the Liberal Party’s Ken Chow who claimed he had been threatened and dropped out of the race just days before the election. Part of the story he has just  told concerns the liaison office’s preference for Junius Ho (Apple, Standard, Sept. 8). The line-up in NTW remains the same as before: 5 pro-establishment; 4 democrats.

New Territories East also retains the same balance as before: 3 pro-establishment; 6 democrats. This district is home to “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung; the Labour Party’s sole remaining legislator, Fernando Cheung; the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung who remains in the seat vacated by Ronny Tong; and People Power’s Raymond Chan, Hong Kong’s only openly gay legislator.

NTE has also just elected Youngspiration candidate Baggio Leung, friend of disqualified Hong Kong Indigenous independence campaigner Edward Leung Tin-kei. The two Leung’s campaigned together.

WHAT NEXT?

Hong Kong’s 2016 Legislative Council may look almost the same … only a handful of seats won and lost here and there … but it’s a very different place from what it was before. The young locaslist post-Occupy candidates, together with their banned pro-independence counterparts, have put the question of Hong Kong’s relationship with its new sovereign front and center on the public agenda. And they’ve done it in a way that Beijing will not be able to address with its old familiar formulas: uniting with those who can be won over by whatever means, and drawing clear lines against everyone else.

Those old formulas are supposed to produce automatic deference to Beijing’s sovereign authority … as they might have done had Beijing felt free to exercise its hard-power enforcement mechanisms that can ensure compliance. Some old conservative onlookers here know those rules and warn about the danger of trying Beijing’s patience.

But the younger generation … that has grown up during the last 30 years since the terms of Hong Kong’s return to China were written … don’t live by the old rules. And they know that for now, while those terms are still acknowledged in name if not always in fact, they can still push back to protest the disconnect between what Hong Kong thought and what Beijing meant by those terms. They also calculate that it might be their last chance to push back and they are now determined to make their case as direct and as public as possible.

Real independence is not an option. Most everyone understands and accepts that fact even if they don’t like it. But the independence advocated by the banned candidates has become a code word, a rhetorical device useful in spotlighting and identifying all that’s wrong with the Beijing-Hong Kong relationship.

The new localist candidates who were not banned use another term: self-determination. Beijing is trying to tar them all with the same brush. But it can’t mask the reality of what’s wrong with the relationship. And Beijing is right in suggesting that both kinds of candidates are talking about the same thing, namely, the clash between Hong Kong and mainland ways and the ever increasing impact of the latter on Hong Kong political life.

Those intrusions are everywhere now: mainland liaison office officials openly coordinating election candidates, the alleged intimidation of candidate Ken Chow, the experience of the cross-border booksellers, patriotic education for all students, Beijing’s August 31, 2014 mandate on mainland-style electoral reform, Beijing’s 2014 White Paper spelling out its concept of comprehensive sovereignty, Article 23 national political security legislation, and so on.  It’s a slow steady takeover not just from above and below but from within as well.

So strong has the backlash become, in fact, that the main “traditional” pro-democracy parties (Democratic Party, Civic Party, Labour Party, Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood) have all endorsed the self-determination idea.  It is no longer a “radical” advocacy  …  except in Beijing’s eyes.

The 2016-2020 Legislative Council will not be a tranquil sanctuary, despite the absence of master trouble-maker Raymond Wong Yuk-man.   In his place will be several others who can multiply his effect many times over.

Their aim now is not to “wake up” Hong Kongers but something even more difficult: to convince Beijing that the terms of its engagement with Hong Kong need to be conducted in a way that allows Hong Kong the autonomy it thought it was going to receive after the British left in 1997.

 

* Update:  The total calculation of 30 democrats was made with the addition of a Functional Constituency independent, Pierre Chan, representing medical doctors.  Despite the pro-democracy signals he sent out while campaigning, Apple Daily (Sept 6) counts him separately …  to give democrats a total of 29 legislators in the 70-seat council.

 

hkfocus2017@gmail.com

 

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on Sept. 8, 2016

 

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NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Still not clear from the HKUPOP rolling poll what impact the new post-Occupy localist/self-determination/independence trend is likely to have on the September 4 Legislative Council election.*

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_Hong_Kong_legislative_election,_2016

Campaigning is a relatively short-term exercise … British-style … so the general voting public is just now finally focusing on their constituency candidate lists and the choices that must be made next Sunday.

Social media campaigning and street-corner pamphleteering have been going on all summer, and the main HKUPOP poll began at the end of June. But the real action along with televised candidate forums didn’t begin until after the final “validly nominated” candidate lists for the six one-person one-vote constituencies were announced in early August.   These are the five Geographic Constituencies: Hong Kong Island; Kowloon West; Kowloon East; New Territories West; New Territories East; plus the all-city super-seat District Council constituency.

It pays to maintain a degree of caution about the HKUPOP poll results. Everyone looks to them for reference, but not necessarily for actual fact. For one thing, the pollsters are using land lines. That means only stay-at-home types will be answering the phone, which means further that the answers are probably skewered older and conservative.  So it also means they probably won’t be adequately reflecting the preferences of the mobile-phone-addicted younger generation where the greatest interest in the new post-Occupy localist trends are to be found.

Of course, like everywhere else, Hong Kong’s younger generation has a far lower voting participation rate than seniors, so maybe the polling is a reliable guide after all … but then again maybe not …

For voters who are poll-watchers, however, these final days are when decisions are made and the custom of tactical voting is more-or-less accepted … even if people didn’t much like Professor Benny Tai’s Thunderbolt attempt to give it some precision.

Voters all along the political spectrum wait for the final poll numbers, hope they’re accurate, and cast their ballots for the candidates who seem most in need … as well as best able to benefit.  Loyalty to favorites is one thing.  Wasting votes on lost causes is something else.  Many calculations are made, at the last minute, accordingly.

The pro-Beijing camp is far better organized and systematic in their get-out-the-vote operations, and position candidates for maximum advantage. Democrats do the opposite in all respects and there have been a few big miscalculations in recent years … but not big enough to inspire more discipline as Benny Tai discovered.

TOO MANY NEW NAMES

As a general first impression, people don’t seem too happy with what they see because they don’t always see the candidates they’ve come to know best … the valued power of incumbency that parties and candidates have learned to love or hate depending on whether they’re veterans or novices.

Democrats are more vulnerable than loyalists in this regard. The trend to youth is being registered all along the spectrum. But loyalists have discipline and democrats don’t. Among them the new names include many post-2014 Occupy protest movement new comers.

Older people are also being put off by the even greater than usual quarreling among the pro-democracy candidates, not just between the younger and older generation but among varying degrees of localism as well.

Additionally, the older established political parties have responded to the new post-Occupy youth wave by placing their rising stars first on the candidate lists and the familiar veterans second.

It was a nice generous gesture intended to give the new comers a boost, especially since they’ve been complaining for years about how the old-timers have been hogging the limelight and crowding everyone else out. Except that the general voting public is not yet familiar with the newcomers since their stars have not yet fully risen.

The names have been printed out on tens of thousands of pamphlets and fliers. But mailings and street corner handouts are not enough. Neither are the televised district forums since the official rule of equal time must be enforced. With so many candidates in each district, that leaves only time enough for each speaker to make an introductory statement and a rhetorical sound bite or two afterward.

HONG KONG ISLAND

Emily Lau and Albert Ho are household names, but the Democratic Party’s Hong Kong Island candidate is a young District Councilor named Ted Hui Chi-fung who is unknown outside the small District Council constituency that elected him for the first time last November. Otherwise, what little publicity he has been able to generate has been mostly negative … concerning some minor misuse of office funds (Apple: Feb. 5, May 12).  It might have been enough to derail his candidacy but apparently the Democratic Party has run out of other contenders for the HKI seat.

No wonder Hui’s poll ratings have been anemic at best, prompting Democratic Party leaders to raise the alarm on his behalf. They, and others, convinced the pollsters to include both new and old names when they make their sampling phone calls. Consequently, said his promoters, Ted Hui’s ratings rose last week from 1-2% to 6%. Now they’re up to 7% after a weekend of campaigning on his behalf by elders Martin Lee and Anson Chan.

This compares with the powerhouses on Hong Kong Island who’ve been polling steadily, from the start, with ratings high enough to win two seats in the case of Regina Ip (29-30+%), and one seat each for the DAB’s candidate and the conservative TV entrepreneur Ricky Wong whose main campaign battle cry is “Oust Chief Executive CY Leung.” Only one pro-democracy candidate, the Civic Party’s Tanya Chan, has such consistently strong ratings.

In this six-seat constituency, 16.67% of the vote is enough to win one seat. Votes in excess of that figure are transferred to the second candidate on the list. If no candidate wins that amount, the seats are simply allocated according to the number of votes received (see June 27 post on transferrable votes).

If a democrat is to win the sixth seat on Hong Kong Island, it will have to be a fight at the margin among: the Labour Party’s Cyd Ho (pre-Occupy moderate radical); People Power’s Cristopher Lau (pre-Occupy moderate radical); Civic Passion’s Alvin Cheng Kam-mun (pre-Occupy radical); Nathan Law (post-Occupy moderate radical); Paul Zimmerman (fallen-away Civic Party, now independent); moderate Gary Wong from Ronny Tong’s Path of Democracy group; and Chui Chi-kin, a District Councilor, newly elected last November who won fame as an “Occupy parent” supporter of the younger generation.

Pro-democracy voters are spoiled for choice. Only it’s a choice they’re still getting to know … with less than a week to go before Election Day.

In 2012, HKI elected pan-democrats to fill three of its seven seats. Population shifts mean HKI now has only six seats and democrats will be lucky to win two of the six … in what was once a democratic stronghold and where there are still more than enough votes to win a third seat if only there were fewer candidates to share them.

KOWLOON WEST

Across the harbor, Kowloon West was allocated the seat Hong Kong lost and for democrats, KNW is the one bright spot where they might actually register a one-seat gain. In 2012, this five-seat constituency elected three democrats. This year they may pick up the new seat although it will be touch and go who fills it.  Two young post-Occupy localists are both competitive and old “Mad Dog” Raymond Wong Yuk-man looks to be in danger of losing the seat he has held for several years.

He even featured in a dust-up last week after an election forum where localists took sides for and against him. Three policemen were injured trying to restore order. Before they were done, supporters of a rival KNW candidate, Johnathan Ho Chi-Kwong, had raked up all kinds of scores both old and new, like Raymond Wong’s opposition to the June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park and the July First protest march, and his criticism of Occupy, and his alleged waffling on the issue of Hong Kong independence …  and how to deal with Grandfather (local slang for Beijing).

His is the coalition that has decided it wants to keep the Basic Law forever, once suitably amended and legitimized by a popular referendum.  He and his Civic Passion allies managed to satisfy their election officers with this response. But one of his detractors appealed to KNW constituents not to cast even a single vote for Wong (Apple, Aug. 25).

One of two candidates stand to benefit if Raymond Wong goes down in KNW.  Both are post-Occupy localists: Lau Siu-lai and Yau Wai-ching. Yau is a Youngspiration 【青年新政】favorite, part of that post-Occupy generation of young people who emerged from the 2014 Occupy experience as strong advocates of Hong Kong self-determination. She came close to winning a District Council seat in last November’s election when her opponent was the well-established pro-Beijing ally Priscilla Leung, an incumbent in KNW who seems set to retain her Legislative Council seat.

Raymond Wong is especially unhappy about one of Yau’s campaign supporters. Wong went all out to campaign for Hong Kong Indigenous leader Edward Leung Tin-kei in last February’s by-election. And how does Leung repay him?  By campaigning for one of Raymond Wong’s rivals for the pro-democracy vote in KNW!

But Leung has his reasons. After he was disqualified as a candidate due to his independence advocacy, Edward Leung forged an alliance with his Youngspiration friend Baggio Leung.  The latter dedicated his own campaign to Edward Leung and is running on his behalf in New Territories East.  He had planned to run there. The two Leungs are not related.

So Youngspiration and its candidates are Edward Leung’s partners for now.  Hong Kong’s election scene is a fast-changing kaleidoscope of campaign colors.  But Raymond Wong should know the rules since he has probably done more to create them than anyone else.

The other localist hopeful in KNW, Lau Siu-lai, shot to fame after the Lunar New Year Mong Kok riot in February.   She was already known as “Teacher Siu-lai” for her democracy lessons during Occupy. Dr. Lau teaches part-time at the community college of Hong Kong Polytechnic University and likes to mix activism with academic life. Hence her focus on Hong Kong’s aging street vendors and the open-air markets the government has been trying to phase out for years.

Lau was on hand running her unlicensed late-night fried-squid snack stall last February, the day before Edward Leung Tin-kei’s Hong Kong Indigenous came out to “protect” them all from the government’s hawker control force. Along the way he turned them into a global headline as part of Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year “fish ball revolution.”  Lau was arrested, found guilty, fined HK$1,800 for hawking without a license, and is now being charged with “moonlighting” by the university. She says it was an act of civil disobedience and decided the Legislative Council would be as good a place as any to champion her localist causes.

KOWLOON EAST

With the same five seats as in 2012, this district has not changed and is sewed up tighter than a drum. Loyalist pro-Beijing forces are thick on the ground and will almost certainly take three seats.   It was loyalist ally, Paul Tse, who acknowledged after the last election that Beijing’s liaison office had smoothed his entrance into the district with helpful introductions.

Now there seems to be no space for anyone else: one seat each solidly in the columns of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), and Tse … plus two left over. The two will go to the incumbent Wu Chi-wai of the Democratic Party and the Civic Party’s replacement for Alan Leong who is stepping aside to make way for a younger successor. Civic Passion’s rabble rousing Wong Yeung-tat is trying a second time to find space in KNE, but the polls suggest there is still none to spare.

Another Younspiration ally, Chan Chak-to, is also running in KNE.   He has broken one of the election rules by saying more on the campaign trail than he did in his nomination form. Chan has come out verbally for Hong Kong independence and has been warned that he can still be disqualified even at this late date. But there also seems to be no space in KNE for Chan where his poll numbers are bottom of the pack.

NEW TERRITORIES WEST

The two nine-seat New Territories constituencies are not too close to call, they’re too chaotic to divine. With a total of 42 candidate lists between them and no trend yet emerging (except for the DAB), the contest is not so much about who can win the full proportional representation cut-off quota of 11% to secure a seat. More likely it will be a race to the bottom to see how many candidates can scrape through with the lowest number of votes.

In the last, 2012, election, NTW was a washout for democrats. Their lists were poorly coordinated with both the Democratic Party and Civic Party equally to blame, in different ways. The results broke 5:4 in the loyalists’ favor.  They probably won’t do any better this time.

This year the two parties have positioned themselves well enough. But a full range of pre- and post-Occupy radicals and moderates are also in the running. Among them all, only the Civic Party incumbent, Kwok Ka-ki, seems safe as of now. *

For once, however, the big drama is on the loyalist side: an altercation between the Liberal Party (moderately pro-Beijing overtly pro-business) and pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho Kwan-yiu. Loyalist New Territories forces rallied to Ho’s side last November, and with an assist from Civic Passion still bent on punishing Albert Ho, together they succeeded in depriving him of his District Council seat.

Now Junius Ho, an ambitious lawyer with ties to the New Territories rural establishment, wants more. He wants a seat in the Legislative Council, so much so that his campaign team hatched a plot to drive from the race a rival for the same pool of conservative rural voters.

The rival was Liberal Party candidate Ken Chow Wing-kan who announced his withdrawal during a televised candidate forum last Thursday. But he damned his adversary as he went, claiming he, Chow, had been threatened to withdraw and produced an audio recording as proof. Earlier he had claimed that someone tried to bribe him with a large sum of money to withdraw. Candidate Ho admitted his team had discussed the harassment plan but claimed he vetoed it (Apple, Aug. 26, 27).

His team should have consulted the HKUPOP ratings and left well enough alone.  Chow’s poll numbers indicate that his chances of winning, or even taking votes from his rival, were nil.

Now they have an embarrassing scandal on their hands along with the possibility of criminal prosecution for violating election laws.  Chow’s allegations can’t be swept under the carpet along with some others  because he came out with them so publicly.  And even the South China Morning Post has finally had to admit that Beijing’s liaison office here “is allegedly coordinating the election campaign of the pro-establishment camp” (SCMP, online, Aug. 26).   That long-standing allegation is, of course, part of the whole mainland infiltration project that has produced Hong Kong’s defiant post-Occupy generation.

NEW TERRITORIES EAST

The one trend that so far stands out in NTE stands also as a warning marker for Ronny Tong Ka-wah. In what he had hoped would be a wake-up call last year, he gave up his Legislative Council seat in this constituency and quit the Civic Party to protest what he had long been fulminating about, namely the Civic Party’s drift away from the moderate middle ground. It was the by-election to fill his seat last February that gave Hong Kong Indigenous leader Edward Leung territory-wide name recognition, although the Civic Party’s replacement candidate won the seat.

Ronny Tong formed his own new moderate group, Path of Democracy 【民主思路】, that is sponsoring two hopefuls in the current race. But despite his active campaigning on their behalf, it’s safe to predict they’ll be among the early losers on September 4.   At least one reason is also clear. Tong’s high-profile break with the Civic Party was intended, he said, to allow him to work toward bridging the gap between Beijing and Hong Kong’s democracy camp.

But he has yet to say just how he aims to bridge the gap.  Neither his Path of Democracy nor another small break-away group from the Democratic Party have been able even to distinguish themselves from several other moderate conservatives with some experience to back up their claim that they, too, can talk to both sides … and thereby bridge the gap between Beijing and Hong Kong’s core values.

This has been the Liberal Party’s chief appeal to moderates ever since it came to the rescue and withdrew support from the government’s Article 23 national political security legislation in 2003. Regina Ip’s New People’s Party also claims to stand on middle ground. So does TV entrepreneur Ricky Wong.  And like all of these moderate conservative candidates, moderate conservative Christine Fong is the only NTE candidate (except for the DAB) who has retained a clear solid lead since polling began in July.

THOSE ALL-CITY SUPER-SEATS

The District Councils Functional Constituency has nine candidate lists vying for its five seats (Aug. 18 post).  Well-chosen loyalists (DAB/FTU) account for three lists; pro-democracy hopefuls are responsible for six. Two of the six seem safe, but the contest in this constituency between establishment and democracy forces is for the fifth seat.

An interviewer sought out the pro-democracy candidates to ask why they were so obviously courting defeat, and the loss of an important constituency seat to the camp as a whole, by fielding so many lists. Local political reporters invariably seem more concerned about the issue than the candidates themselves. In this case, the answers were classic grassroots pro-democracy Hong Kong.**

Although they had discussed it among themselves beforehand, potential candidates were unable to agree on some sort of winnowing out process, like a primary contest. Nor was anyone willing to step aside for the greater good. They all deliberately positioned themselves on the candidate lists to promote their ideals, but also themselves as the purveyors thereof.   So that despite the high-minded democratic aims that motivate them, they were bound by the narrowest of self-serving political concerns.

In a sense, they were all first and foremost “localists” … operating and competing with one another in their own local Hong Kong world where the larger high-stakes risk for the camp as a whole … of losing its meagre one-third veto-proof minority in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council … did not signify at all.

Somehow the “mainlandized” way of Beijing-directed political life they all fear does not enter into their immediate day-to-day political calculations … even though the DAB, FTU, and their allies have by now intruded massively into the local political way of life via this same electoral process.

The pro-Beijing establishment has been able to exploit Hong Kong’s fractured democratic political community so effectively that the Beijing-dominated coalition now has won majorities on all of Hong Kong’s elected councils.

The reason the Democratic Party’s super-seat candidate James To is the only strong incumbent left standing from 2012 is that the other two, Albert Ho and Frederick Fung, were successfully targeted by the establishment machine in last year’s District Councils election.

In Albert Ho’s case, that machine and its candidate, Junius Ho, had the help of one of the democratic camp’s own … Civic Passion … which relished playing the spoiler’s role to continue punishing Ho for his 2010 political reform compromise decision (Nov. 26, 2015 post).

These maneuvers succeeded in disqualifying both Ho and Fung from the competition since only District Councilors can nominate and be nominated for the super-seats. As a result, DAB/FTU candidates are now positioned to move in for the kill and tip the balance in this constituency by taking the fifth seat.

*  For three less familiar names, see, “Jason Ng’s Legco Election Picks, Part 5:  New Territories West,” in Hong Kong Free Press,   His preferences lean pre-Occupy radical …

* * Ashley Kong, “Your Second Vote … ,”  Harbour Times, August 17.

http://harbourtimes.com/2016/08/17/your-second-vote-pan-dems-bring-their-own-kryptonite-to-super-seat-

 

hkfocus2017@gmail.com

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on Aug. 29, 2016

 

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THE SEPTEMBER ELECTION: Early Polling

The bans against six candidates for advocating Hong Kong independence has added a new dimension to the coming September 4 Legislative Council election (Aug. 3 post).  Suddenly, everyone is talking about the prospect whereas before it was just another of those far-out ideas that local conservatives think college students dream up to waste time and make trouble for the authorities.

But for all the anxiety over a possible post-Occupy pro-independence radical surge on September 4, preliminary polling suggests there may be only minimal change in the Legislative Council’s balance of political forces once the dust settles. For one thing, the council’s design makes anything else almost impossible. The 70-seat body is so thoroughly spliced and diced that it would take a true tsunami-like wave election to make much difference in its political composition.

Beijing’s objective … when the design was being created and written into Hong Kong’s post-1997 Basic Law constitution … was to prevent dissident disloyal parties from being able to dominate and if nothing else that aim has been achieved. But the design also means that it doesn’t have to be a wave election to make a difference. Even a few seats more or less will be enough to register an impact. For this election, it means five seats to be exact. That’s the number pro-establishment forces need to create a critical two-thirds super-majority.

RE-CAPPING COUNCIL COMPLEXITIES

For the just-ended 2012-2016 term, democrats occupied only 27 seats; their pro-establishment (pro-Beijing, pro-business, conservative) opponents, 43. This refers to the 70-seat body as a whole. A two-thirds vote for the council as a whole is required, for example, to pass the political reform legislation that pro-democracy legislators succeeded in vetoing last year and that Beijing reportedly hopes to revive after the coming election (July 11 post).

The council, however, is divided into two blocs of 35 seats each. When it was being designed, in the 1980s while the Basic Law was being drafted, Beijing was looking to achieve something like a two-house effect. An upper conservative house would be able to check the populist dangers that lurk when ordinary folk are allowed into the political arena via one person, one vote.

Hence any motion from the floor, must be passed by a majority of each bloc voting separately. And the two blocs are elected very differently: with 35 seats directly elected by Geographic Constituencies and 35 filled via occupation-based Functional Constituencies. These latter were designed to placate pro-Beijing, pro-business, conservative concerns and have fulfilled their intended purpose many times over.

The 2012-2016 council was divided overall (with one or two sometime crossovers) into 27 democrats and 43 others, but internally, the two blocs were further differentiated politically:

 

LEGCO DESIGN, 2012-16                                        

 

GEOGRAPHIC

CONSTITUENCIES

35 18 democrats 17 others
FUNCTIONAL CONSTITUENCIES 30 6 24
HYBRID/

SUPER-SEATS

5 3 2
TOTALS 70 27 43

 

The task of promoting Beijing’s interests has been entrusted to its main local surrogate party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). The DAB coordinates with the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), which also acts as a political party for the purpose of contesting elections. This creates a sort of trifecta: the middle-class DAB and working class FTU compete with democrats in the Geographic Constituencies; conservative business interests dominate the Functional Constituencies. Democrats have minimal chances of success in the FCs, as the above table indicates.

Hence the number of seats now needed by pro-establishment forces to achieve an overall two-thirds super-majority is 4-5. Meaning they need to keep the 43 seats they held in the 2012-2016 council and add five more to be “safe” … as the British used to say when designing their colonial legislative assemblies.

A NOTE ON THOSE HYBRID SUPER-SEATS

The five hybrids, dubbed super-seats, are the result of then Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho’s ill-fated compromise decision in 2010. It illustrates why the idea of “compromise” has acquired a bad name among pro-democracy partisans.

The government’s idea, working with the DAB between 2005 and 2010, was to reform the Legislative Council by eventually eliminating the much-maligned “rotten borough” Functional Constituencies. But the cure was as bad as the problem it was supposed to solve. The government’s aim was to eliminate the FCs by transforming them into indirectly-elected seats that would be filled by District Councilors. This experiment was to begin with five seats.

The government proposed, the first time abortively in 2005 and then again in 2010, to eliminate five FC seats and add five seats for District Councilors. The 400+ District Councilors would nominate and elect five of their number to become legislators. The official logic was that since District Councilors are directly elected at the base of the election pyramid, the whole Legislative Council could eventually become “directly” elected, as promised by the Basic Law.   If the initial experiment with five seats worked, that is. The District Councils are dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists and their conservative allies so it had the added attraction of looking, to the government, like a “safe” bet.

Albert Ho was then negotiating (by prior agreement among them on pan-democrats’ behalf) with officials in Beijing’s Hong Kong liaison office. But it was always understood that the final decision would be Beijing’s to make. As the negotiations wore on fruitlessly over several months, Albert Ho decided … without much opposition from others … that he would agree to the government’s proposal … but only if the nominated District Councilors could be voted on by the Hong Kong electorate as a whole.

At the very last minute just ahead of the approaching deadline and with no advance warning, Beijing unexpectedly agreed to Ho’s condition. And so this odd hybrid was born … to loud cries of dissent from within the pro-democracy camp that continue to reverberate even as a new more radical generation has appeared.

Only District Councilors can nominate and be nominated for these five seats. But the entire city, voting as a single constituency, then decides.  Thus, all registered voters city-wide who are not qualified to vote in the traditional Functional Costituencies can vote for a super-seat candidate.  Everyone, in other words, has two votes:  one to be cast in a Geographic Constituency, and one for use in either one of the traditional Functional Constituencies or in Albert Ho’s new District Council constituency.

The voting system for the latter is, like the Geographic Consistencies, proportional representation via a single transferable vote (June 27 post).

Once elected, these councilors are otherwise counted as Functional Constituency legislators and their votes in the council are calculated as belonging to the FC side of the house.

2016: CANDIDATES, SEATS, CONSTITUENCIES

Candidate lists Candidates Seats Voters
Hong Kong Island 15 35 6 627,807
Kowloon West 15 37 6 488,129
Kowloon East 12 22 5 601,567
New Territories West 20 53 9 1,086,511
New Territories East 22 66 9 975,071
Total 84 213 35 3,779,085

 

The numbers of candidates, seats and electors for each contested* functional constituency (other than the District Council (second) functional constituency) are as follows:

Candidates Seats Voters
Agriculture and Fisheries 2 1 154
Transport 2 1 195
Education 2 1 88,185
Legal 2 1 6,773
Accountancy 2 1 26,008
Medical 2 1 11,191
Health Services 2 1 37,423
Engineering 3 1 9,406
Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape 3 1 7,371
Social Welfare 5 1 13,824
Tourism 3 1 1,426
Commercial (first) 2 1 1,086
Financial Services 3 1 622
Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication 2 1 2,920
Textiles and Garment 2 1 2,332
Wholesale and Retail 2 1 6,727
Information Technology 2 1 12,115
Catering 2 1 5,543
Total 43 18 233,301

* The key word is “contested.” There are 28 FCs with 10 uncontested.

 

The numbers of candidate lists, candidates, seats and electors for the District Council (second) functional constituency are as follows:

Candidate lists Candidates Seats Voters
9 21 5 3,473,792

 

The gazette notices and information about the candidates are available on the election website (www.elections.gov.hk).

 

VOTING TACTICALLY

Everyone laughed at Benny Tai’s idea when he announced his Thunderbolt Plan for coordinating candidates and voters earlier this year (June 27 post).  But his logic is beginning to make itself felt now that the University of Hong Kong’s POP rolling poll is in motion:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_Hong_Kong_legislative_election,_2016 .

The need to impose some sort of candidate-coordination discipline among democrats goes back a decade and more, but has fallen by the wayside this year amid the infectious enthusiasm of the new post-Occupy generation.

The camp has now fractured into even more parts than before and all have succumbed to the temptation of fielding more candidates than can possibly win. The novices all claim they’re gaining experience and building their voter base. Those old enough to know better say they hope to see a higher voter turnout this time around. None worry about splitting the pro-democracy vote and giving extra advantage to their common adversary … at least not until a few days ago.

The divisions among them can be categorized as pre- and post-Occupy (referring to the 2014 street occupation protest movement), now further sub-divided into greater and lesser degrees of radicalism.

The six candidates who have just been banned for advocating Hong Kong independence qualify as being the most radical post-Occupy.   The activists who organized themselves into the Youngspiration alliance and Joshua Wong’s Demosisto party are post-Occupy, less radical for not advocating outright independence.

In contrast, the Civic Passion-Hong Kong-Resurgence-Proletarian Political Institute alliance of Wong Yeung-tat, Dr. Horace Chin, and Raymond “Mad Dog” Wong Yuk-man are pre-Occupy radical without the demand for independence. They speak instead of Hong Kong-focused localism, autonomy, and self-determination. “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung’s League of Social Democrats and People Power, one-time pre-Occupy radical friends, then competitors, and now back campaigning together again, count as pre-Occupy moderate radicals who do not advocate independence.

For examples of “model” campaign strategizing, however, we must look to their pro-establishment competitors to illustrate how it should be done. They are led by the DAB and FTU and strategize with a few long-standing loyal allies like former Security Secretary Regina Ip. Another somewhat less loyal ally is the pro-business Liberal Party.

It is said that DAB and FTU candidates work with a coordinating committee and liaise with Beijing liaison office personnel, although this is only hearsay and not part of the usual rhetoric used against them on the campaign trail. But however achieved, their strategies are disciplined, coordinated, and calculated to win as many seats as possible while wasting as few votes as possible.

By now, pro-Beijing loyalists know the approximate extent of their voter base in different constituencies and they field just enough candidates to maximize voter strength. The turnout can always be bolstered somewhat if it seems down in key localities on Election Day. This is the work of energetic campaign support teams, spotters outside polling stations … even though exit polling is not supposed to be used for this purpose … late afternoon Election Day phone calls, and so on.

This year pro-establishment forces have a few loose ends that they failed to discourage, but only a few. Patriotic activists from Voice of Loving Hong Kong insisted on contesting in Kowloon East. One-time Functional Constituency legislator, Chim Pui-chung had a fraud conviction and did jail time. But five years have passed since then, which re-qualifies him to run. He’s standing as an independent on Hong Kong Island.

If the early HKUPOP polling is any indication, however, these fringe candidates will have minimal impact on the pro-establishment camp’s prospects … since its candidates have otherwise been so carefully selected and positioned to win.

In fact, if the election had been held during the second week of August, Hong Kong Island would be looking to another pro-establishment seat majority, as in 2012 when the seven-seat result broke 4:3 in favor of the establishment candidates.

Now with six seats in the constituency, proportional representation decrees that about 16% of the vote is needed to win one seat. Any excess is transferred to the second candidate on the winner’s list  On the other hand, if no candidate wins 16%, seats are simply allocated according to the absolute number of votes won. (June 27 post).

In mid-August, that would have given:  the candidate list headed by Regina Ip two seats; one to the DAB; and another to telecommunications entrepreneur Ricky Wong Wai-kay who has suddenly developed an interest in politics. The FTU didn’t quite make the cut but its candidates always manage to pull through somehow.

Wong is the wild card on Hong Kong Island this year, a surprise entrant into the race with territory-wide name recognition. The one plank in his platform that appeals to democrats is “ABC,” which stands for “Anyone but CY.” The reference is to Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung who Wong blames for his high-profile abortive struggle to win a TV broadcasting license from the government. Otherwise, Wong would be regarded as a pro-establishment candidate with one-time loyalist ties.  Among other things he favors cross-border infrastructure projects and Beijing’s 2014 electoral reform mandate saying it will all work out in the end.*

Even ABC can be a pro-business tag line, of course. Wong was once a Liberal Party member and the Liberal Party doesn’t think much of CY either. Since the ABC fan club by now includes most of the democratic camp, Ricky Wong seems set to absorb votes from both sides. But given the oversupply of pro-democracy lists, he’ll probably do more damage to them than their opponents.

The super-seat hybrid District Councils constituency doesn’t look too promising for democrats either. There are altogether nine candidate lists: three pro-establishment, six for democrats and the line-up offers another good illustration of how to win and how to lose. With five seats, the two camps can expect to win two seats each. Serious competition is for the fifth seat.

In 2012, they fielded three lists each, with three strong candidates: two each to win and one for back up just in case.  A democrat, Albert Ho, won the fifth seat.

This year the pro-Beijing camp is again fielding three lists, but democrats have six. These include: two Democratic Party lists, one Civic Party, one Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, one Neighborhood/Workers Centre, one Neo-Democrat.

PANIC TIME?

Suddenly, tactical voting doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. Last week, Democratic Party elder Yeung Sum did what politicians always do in such situations: he questioned the reliability of HKUPOP polling.

He nevertheless acknowledged that the party’s three novice candidates heading its lists on Hong Kong Island plus New Territories s East and West are in danger of losing. With only two others likely to win, in Kowloon East and West, this election could leave the once dominant Democratic Party with its smallest ever team of legislators.

But that was not his only worry. He also noted that the party’s main super-seat candidate, incumbent James To, had way more than enough votes to win one seat. Yeung therefore suggested that voters shift their preference to the party’s younger candidate on its second list to even out the vote (SCMP, Aug. 13).

Given the crowded field, the question is why Yeung Sum’s party chose to field a second list in the first place. They might have left the opportunity open for one of the other  parties at their end of the policial spectrum …  but they didn’t.

The New Territories East Geographic Constituency has 22 lists of candidates vying for its nine seats. The lists include: five pro-establishment and at least nine pro-democracy. Last weekend, Labour Party candidate Fernando Cheng and Civic Party candidate Alvin Yeung campaigned together. Their message to voters: it’s up to you to save us. Since we share the same values, they said, take care to share your votes between us so that as many pro-democracy candidates as possible can be elected.

 

* https://www.rickyelection.hk/en/policies

 

hkfocus2017@gmail.com

 

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on Aug. 18, 2016, titled “THE SEPTEMBER ELECTION: Early Polling”

 

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SPOTLIGHT ON INDEPENDENCE

The disqualification of six candidates has added an unexpected dimension to the coming September 4 Legislative Council election (Aug. 3 post). During all the years since Hong Kong, belatedly, introduced universal suffrage elections, in the 1980s, no candidate has ever been banned beforehand on political grounds. The first instance was announced last week, along with the validated candidates.

According to the official figures released on August 5, there are a total of 289 validly nominated candidates in all categories vying to fill 70 seats in the council. That includes: 35 seats to be filled by direct election in five Geographic Constituencies, with 213 candidates divided among 84 lists following the format of Hong Kong’s single transferable vote version of proportional representation (June 27 post).

Additionally, 30 seats are filled by occupation-based Functional Constituencies. And 5 seats are a hybrid mix of indirect/direct election.

But on August 5 when the government lists were formally announced, the center of attention was not on the “validly nominated candidates” but on the six hopefuls who had been disqualified. The six:

Andy Chan Ho-tin, convener, Hong Kong National Party.

Yeung Ke-cheong from a new group calling itself the Democratic Progressive Party.

Nakade Hitsujiko, a Hong Kong nationalist associated with Hong Kong Resurgence.

Alice Lai Yi-man, Hong Kong Conservative Party, advocate of eventual self-determination for Hong Kong via a return to British sovereignty.

James Chan Kwok-keung, independent, District Councilor.

Edward Leung Tin-kei, student activist, leader of the localist group Hong Kong Indigenous.

 

These six were barred on what would be the highest charge of subversion if Hong Kong was governed like the rest of China. But it isn’t. So they were denied access to the election instead. Reason: because they have recently begun talking about Hong Kong independence and Beijing regards such talk as a violation of its inalienable sovereign right to rule Hong Kong.

The validating officials asked each if they are indeed independence advocates and after ascertaining that they either are or must be, these six were denied permission to contest the election.

As to why they have recently begun talking about independence when virtually no one had done so since the conditions for resuming Chinese sovereignty were agreed upon in the mid-1980s, their reasons have by now been clearly stated.

After decades of agitation for democratic reform, culminating in the 2014 Occupy protest movement, it’s now obvious that Beijing doesn’t intend to fulfill the promises that were written into Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution, promulgated by Beijing, to govern Hong Kong during the first 50 years after its return to Chinese rule (1997-2047).

With those hopes dashed, a few young and not-so-young political activists have concluded that the “high degree of autonomy” promised Hong Kong by the Basic Law can only be achieved through independence or the less subversive-sounding goal of self-determination.

These activists have also concluded, correctly, that election campaigns provide the best opportunity for getting their message across since that’s when the largest number of people focus their attention on politics. Otherwise, most people are inclined to ignore the subject most of the time.

Several activists thus decided to contest the September 4 election. They actually got this idea about contesting elections last year and tested the waters during the November 2014 District Councils election when they did better than expected (Nov. 26, 2015 post).  Edward Leung Tin-kei did the same with the same result in the February by-election (Mar. 2 post).

THE NEXT BEST THING

So if one way doesn’t work, try another. Since they were denied access to the candidate lists, they decided to do the next best thing … campaign anyway. The act of banning these six was actually in the nature of a gift. It focused attention on their message in a way they could never have achieved had they carried on campaigning like everyone else, via social media and street-corner pamphleteering.

The six were, with one exception, marginal candidates, set to generate little interest on their own. The exception was Edward Leung who is the only one who had a realistic chance of winning a seat.

But singled out for such special government attention, they suddenly had a ready-made opportunity and they didn’t let it pass. Andy Chan’s Hong Kong National Party sponsored a rally on the evening of August 5 and five of the six had a chance to say what they had to say with all the local news media gathered in attendance … in the shadow of the Legislative Council building itself.

For reasons not yet divulged, the authorities have allowed the National Party to function normally even though the government has refused to allow it to register as required of all political parties … which means it’s carrying on illegally. But since free speech prevails so far, National Party flags lined the walkway around the Legislative Council building and campaign workers handed out hundreds of cleverly-designed booklets with each page offering a rhetorical answer to all the questions people ask and reasons they give for why Hong Kong can never be independent. On the back page was a quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

The venue is becoming an iconic spot … the Legislative Council complex is newly built … and it’s only saving aesthetic grace is a vast expanse of well-tended lawn, a rarity in Hong Kong, stretching down to the waterfront.

The crowd was large, 2-3,000, and not at all violent. It was reminiscent of the rally Benny Tai Yiu-ting’s Occupy Central campaign held there just after Beijing announced its August 31 (8.31) election reform decision in 2014. The two rallies conveyed the same mood: defeat and defiance.

THE SPEECHES

Even though the speeches were made by heretofore marginal players in Hong Kong’s political drama, they reflected the growing sense of  gloom that has taken hold here. They seemed like a political answer to the dark futuristic film “Ten Years” that had such an impact earlier this year. The new (for Hong Kong) idea of independence is a reaction against the growing pressures to “mainland-ize” that are dramatized in the film … with candidate bans being only the most recent real life example thereof.

A recent survey conducted by Chinese University researchers found 17% of respondents supported the idea of independence, with an additional 23% borderline …  meaning they could go either way.  The proportion for independence was 39% among young people aged 15-24 (Ming Pao, July 25).

Andy Chan hosted the event on Friday night, billed as Hong Kong’s first independence rally and held, with permission, in government headquarters’ Tamar Park for added effect. There was even a dress code. Everyone was told to “dress conservatively” and remain on best behavior throughout, which they did.

He wanted to make his point that Hong Kong needed a revolution but it didn’t have to be with guns and bullets. What was needed was a mass base … with many more people rallying to the cause. Otherwise, it would be impossible to make the breakthrough he hoped to achieve.

But Chan also made a point of telling his audience not to support candidates in the coming election who might be close to them in spirit but refused to accept the idea of independence. Specifically, he warned against those representing the Civic Passion-Hong Kong Resurgence-Proletarian Political Institute alliance that wanted to keep the Basic Law (revised) forever. One of their candidates attended the rally but was not invited to speak (Apple, Aug. 6).

In terms of ideas and explanations, it’s easy to see why Edward Leung Tin-kei was the star of the evening and why he might have been elected … despite his adventuristic flirtation with “valiant” violent resistance.

He addressed the seeming contradiction between his advocacy of violence … that shot him to local fame after the Mong Kok riot last February … and the current peaceful assembly he was addressing. He said both were fine. What he objected to was the dogmatism of Hong Kong’s mainstream pro-democracy protestors with their insistence on non-violence that never went beyond civil disobedience. No need to feel guilty about sitting here so quietly and listening to speeches, he told his audience. Only don’t tell us we can’t up the ante if need be. Use any means so long as the goal is to overthrow the present government.

He said overthrowing the government is necessary to regain political rights because sovereignty over Hong Kongers doesn’t belong to Xi Jinping or the Central government or the Chinese Communist Party. It belongs to us, the people of Hong Kong.   … We’ve given up our fantasies toward the Hong Kong government and the Basic Law with its promises about “one-country, two systems,” and Beijing giving us democracy.  We want to regain power that should belong to us and this is the meaning of our rally today.

But the struggle has already begun, he said. It began during what began as Benny Tai’s Occupy Central protest. Leung and the students and others then pushed on far beyond what Tai had in mind for the original protest. That’s why Leung and others like him refuse to refer to it as the Umbrella Movement. For them, it was the Umbrella Revolution.*

A surprise talent on the August 5 speakers’ roster was banned candidate Nakade Hitsujiko. He recently changed his name from Chung Ming-lun, the better to play his favorite role as a comic character actor in drag. But on this occasion he used his soapbox opportunity in a serious satirical way … to mock everyone including himself.

History is unforgiving, he said. If you win, you’re normal. If you lose, you’re crazy. … Screening candidates is not just an insult to the candidates but to voters as well.  … Responding to the official inquiry by the Returning Officer as to his political beliefs, he said he had replied that Beijing should send a rocket to the moon, declare some territory on its surface to be sovereign Chinese Hong Kong territory …  and leave the earthly site alone so the locals could build their own nation in peace.  This farce is good for us, he said.

Hong Kongers are worried about the future but they can’t think outside the box. Why should we try to do everything by ourselves?  He mocked Edward Leung’s idea of fighting back “valiantly” with force. … Beijing is forever accusing Hong Kong of colluding with foreign forces. So let’s collude. Call in the Americans to come help us, he declared.

He said he had thought of leaving Hong Kong, migrating to Canada or wherever. But then he decided he must stay to help fix things here. For those who object, let them be the ones to leave.  Let them move up north to the land of “comprehensive systems of laws” and “selfless one-party systems.” **

Another surprise was recently elected District Councilor James Chan Kwok-keung who “came out” to reveal himself a supporter of Hong Kong independence for the first time. He was especially tough on Hong Kong’s pan-democrats, now increasingly referred to as “traditional” to distinguish them from the post-Occupy generation.

The communist party is the biggest evil, declared Chan, and that’s why we should stop listening to those who shout that slogan about “ending one-party dictatorship” … the slogan old-timers pride themselves on daring to use at their annual June Fourth candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. If you end one-party rule, that means the communist party will still be there. … He said his old pan-democratic friends are now saying he has betrayed them. To them he says the biggest evil is the communist party and he calls them its hidden defenders.

He also said many of his fellow District Councilors would say among themselves that Hong Kong should be independent. But he alone had dared to show up for this rally.  … To succeed, the movement needed not just students but the general public and the middle class as well … most of them, of course, hold foreign passports and can leave Hong Kong whenever they want. His suggestion: ban foreign passport holders from standing for election as District Councilors. That would automatically eliminate half the pro-Beijing crowd and probably half the pan-democrats as well. ***

IMPACT?

This new post-Occupy localism-as-independence idea is not just different in degree from traditional pro-democracy demands and concerns, but different in kind as well. It may force Beijing to adjust and acknowledge what the traditionalists have been protesting in their own muddled way for the past 30 years.

At least now it’s clear that Beijing’s post-1997 promises are not what Hong Kong thought they would be. And now that the independence argument is being so clearly articulated, Beijing can’t pretend any more that it doesn’t understand what people here are talking about. Officials will try to discredit and suppress … but traditional pan-democrats will also have to sharpen their demands, as they’ve already begun to do. That’s the long-term positive potential of the new post-Occupy ideas.

The immediate negative is that they’re probably going to cost pan-democrats their meagre one-third veto-proof minority in the coming Legislative Council election. That seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind … except for pro-Beijing loyalists who are keeping a very low profile the better to succeed with their determined-to-win candidate positions in all five districts.

The others are using the all-around upsurge of energy to field an excess of candidates and lists.  Even those old enough to know better, who’ve been burned before by the same temptation either on the giving or receive end, have been unable to resist the lure of the campaign trail.

Voters will begin focusing more intently as Election Day draws closer. And they may do what “old-timers” Benny Tai and Joseph Cheng are hoping, with all their opinion polls designed to show how best to avoid wasting ballots on idealistic candidates who are sure to lose, while their real adversaries walk home with the prizes (June 27 post).

But Tai and Cheng are men of the pre-Occupy generation.  They’re competing for attention with the likes of post-Occupy Andy Chan who doesn’t want people to vote for Civic Passion alliance candidates thinking they are the next closest alternative to independence. They still believe in the Basic Law enough to want to re-write it, warns Chan, even if they are the most radical of the old pre-Occupy generation.

Edward Leung says the only candidates who distrust Beijing almost as much as he does are the Youngspiation alliance candidates, who have not been banned presumably because they do not advocate independence in so many words. But the group is only fielding three candidats, four if another associate is included.   Joshua Wong’s Demosisto, a touch more moderate, has only one candidate, Nathan Law.  His election materials have been banned even if he hasn’t. Clearly, there are not enough post-Occupy candidates left to vote for if Andy Chan’s advice is taken to heart.

The prospects, in other words, are for a seriously fragmented pro-democracy vote. But pre-election polling is still preliminary, too soon to try and predict who voters will listen to and what choices they’ll decide to make.

 

*   http://hkcolumn.blogspot.hk/2016/08/5-aug-2016-rally-edward-leung-ignite.html            

** http://hkcolumn.blogspot.hk/2016/08/5-aug-2016-rally-nakade-hitsujiko.html

***   http://hkcolumn.blogspot.hk/2016/08/5-aug-2016-rally-james-chans-confession.htmhl

 

hkfocus2017@gmail.com

 

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on Aug. 10, 2016, title:  “Spotlight on Independence.”

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POLITICAL VETTING FOR A HONG KONG ELECTION

The powers that be, in Beijing, have done their best to circumscribe elections here. It began long ago with all the constraints written into post-colonial Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution. Beijing has remained on guard ever since, first delaying the Basic Law’s tempting hints of possible progress toward electoral reform, and then parceling it out in miniscule Beijing-directed portions.

But somehow, Hong Kong always manages to find ways of pushing back. That contest of wills is now playing itself out again over the new political litmus test that was introduced, arbitrarily and without advance notice, just ahead of nominations for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election. Election Day is September 4. The nominating period was July 16-29.

To qualify, in addition to all the usual details, every prospective candidate had to sign a pledge, under pain of committing a criminal offense, affirming his/her commitment to Hong Kong’s post-colonial political order.

Specifically, aspiring candidates had to reaffirm their commitment to Article One of the Basic Law that says Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. They also had to agree that the basic policies for Hong Kong, as stipulated in the Basic Law, cannot be amended.

These specifics were included on a new supplementary confirmation form 【確認書】. The original standard nominating form contains only a general pledge to uphold the Basic Law. Both were required of prospective candidates for the September 4 election (July 22 post).

Hong Kong and Beijing officials explained the reasons for the added requirement. Unorthodox ideas were taking root here and must not be allowed to grow. The ideas were variously described as localism, separatism, autonomy, self-determination, and independence… without actually specifying what each was thought to mean. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam 【林鄭月哦】, the second highest official in Hong Kong’s government, said some people had begun agitating for Hong Kong’s independence from the mainland and were campaigning on this demand.

Zhang Xiaoming 【張曉明】, who is Beijing’s highest ranking representative here as head of its liaison office, said that if independence advocates are allowed to register as candidates and turn their election campaigns into agitations for independence, and perhaps even gain entry into the Legislative Council, that would violate Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution (Wen Wei Po, July 21).

Current Legislative Council president, Jasper Tsang Yok-sing 【曾鈺成】, said the same thing and it was repeated may times over by other loyalists. Said Tsang: either sign the form or stay out of the election (July 22: Wen Wei Po, South China Morning Post).

But later he seemed to have second thoughts because he said something to the effect that it might not be such a good idea for Hong Kong’s government to arbitrarily bar candidates from participating in the election on political grounds since that would contradict assumptions about how local elections are supposed to be held here. Tsang was quoted as saying: ‘ … if the government does things that make people feel that our laws can be set aside, and that people can be barred from running, the cost would be too big for us’ (SCMP, July 28).

CANDIDATES RESPOND

So without any specific guidelines as to legal liabilities or political consequences or any precise yardstick the administering authorities would use to validate nominations under the new rule, aspiring pro-democracy candidates responded in different ways.

The authorities in each of the five election districts are called Returning Officers. These are politically neutral civil servants, albeit working in the loyalist-led Home Affairs Department. They reportedly didn’t want to take on the new political vetting chore when it first came down from on high but were given to understand they had no choice in the matter.

Most pro-democracy candidates refused to sign the new confirmation form and submitted the standard nomination papers without it. But then strange things began to happen. Some soon received notice that their nominations would be validated or that they had been.   Others heard nothing for several days. Still others received e-mails asking for clarification of their political views on Hong Kong independence.

As to why the new confirmation oath was apparently waived in some cases but not others, according to informal explanations given to candidates and journalists, if there is no public or social media record of prospective candidates ever having actually advocated independence, the new confirmation requirement could be waived.

This solution seems to have been allowed for veteran pro-democracy candidates who have participated in past elections and not said or done anything too adventuristic since. Both Democratic Party and Civic Party leaders are, for example, on record as saying they are for self-determination but not independence… without being too specific about what they mean by either term. Their nominations were all approved, although they didn’t sign the new confirmation form.

It was the younger set that seems to have created the greatest headaches for their Returning Officers. Especially difficult were the first-time aspirants from the post-2014 Occupy generation of political protest.

Candidates from the new Youngspiration 【青年新政】alliance, for example, said they personally supported the idea of independence. But this group does not formally endorse the idea as part of its political program.   They nevertheless do intend to include independence as an option for a referendum on Hong Kong’s future after 2047 when the Basic Law’s guarantees are due to expire. Of course, since there are no indications in the Basic Law as to Hong Kong’s status after 2047, there is no legal or logical or political  reason not to include independence along with all the other post-2047 possibilities.

This is also the position of the new political group Demosisto, founded by student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung 【黃之鋒】, and others. But its one candidate, Nathan Law Kwun-chung 【羅冠聰】,currently has more urgent things to worry about. He, along with two others including Wong, have just been found guilty of illegally storming a closed area at the Legislative Council complex. This action, which culminated a week-long student strike, precipitated the onset of the Umbrella-Occupy protest movement two days later, on September 28, 2014.

Nathan Law is currently negotiating the terms of his sentence. If he promises not to engage in such behavior again, he could get off with community service. But he doesn’t want to make such a promise because he feels that his action was a justified case of civil disobedience. This could mean a custodial sentence, which might call a temporary halt to his budding political career, depending on the appeals process (News Lens, July 29). He refused to sign the confirmation form but his nomination for the September 4 election was approved.

The case of Hong Kong Indigenous 【本土民主前線】 leader Edward Leung Tin-kei 【梁天琦】was even more complicated.  His group allegedly precipitated the Mong Kok riot last February and he is currently awaiting trial on that charge. He nevertheless ran in a Legislative Council by-election a few weeks after the Mong Kok violence and did far better than expected, winning 66,000 votes.

Edward Leung filed for an urgent judicial review challenging the legality of the new confirmation requirement but the court declined to accept his plea on such short notice. He then changed his mind about the confirmation form and submitted a signed copy shortly before the nomination period ended. He also took down his Facebook page and deleted all mention of independence from his social media postings … so as to deprive the authorities of their main excuse for invalidating his candidacy, or so he thought.

One of the few unabashed advocates of independence, Andy Chan Ho-tin 【陳浩天】, convener of the new Hong Kong National Party 【香港民族黨】, not only refused to sign the confirmation form but refused to reply when his Returning Officer sent an e-mail asking for more information about his political views. He argued that the officer had exceeded his legal authority by demanding such information since neither the Basic Law nor the Legislative Council Ordinance contain provisions to bar candidates for their political views.

But if citations could be given for the most challenging response, the prize would go to the Civic Passion-HK Resurgence-Proletarian Political Institute alliance. These groups are among the rowdiest in all respects both physically and verbally. But they also do some serious political thinking. They include the godfather of the localist city-state autonomy movement, Horace Chin Wan 【陳云】and Raymond “Mad Dog” Wong Yuk-man 【黃毓民】. Yet none of them actually advocate independence.

The response of Civic Passion’s 【熱血公民】 candidate for HK Island, Alvin Cheng Kam-mun 【鄭錦滿】, reflected their views. At a press conference, he explained that he had answered his Returning Officer’s e-mail questions by saying their campaign had been misunderstood.

They are not agitating for independence and say they hold the Basic Law in higher regard than anyone else. Their aim, in fact, is to keep it forever.  Forever, of course, logically means without the 50-year time limit contained in the Basic Law’s Article 5.  They mean, in other words, to keep the Basic Law after it has been properly legitimized via a popular referendum and re-written, by both Beijing and Hong Kong, to conform to the true spirit of the “one-country, two-systems” promises in the Basic Law as it now stands (July 27: Standard, Harbour Times, Ming Pao).

This is actually the only solution for Hong Kong’s main problem …  but Beijing officials will tie themselves in knots in order to avoid admitting it.

At the same press conference, Raymond Wong said he personally does not advocate independence.  But he will not stand in the way of younger activists who do.

In retrospect, the two leading officials responsible for overseeing the new confirmation exercise did make accurate statements at the outset about how it would be implemented. They had obviously thought it through and prepared their work plan. It’s just that Fung and Lam didn’t elaborate their cryptic comments so that anyone outside the bureaucracy would be able to understand what exactly they aimed to do with their new confirmation form.

Judge Barnabus Fung 【馮驊】, who heads the Electoral Affairs Commission, was reported to have told pro-democracy legislators during their July 19 meeting that failure to sign the new confirmation form did not necessarily mean automatic disqualification (Ming Pao, July 20; SCMP, July 23). That was right. It didn’t.

And Carrie Lam was quoted as saying the decision might not be as simple as whether or not the form was signed (SCMP, July 21). She was right. It wasn’t.

But assuming no one had insider privileged information, all prospective candidates had to learn-by-doing without knowing whether they were doing the right thing or not.

A CASE OF MAINLAND-IZATION  

In one and the same breath … actually one and the same speech … Beijing’s liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming had said independence advocates would violate the Basic Law and should not be allowed into Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Yet he also said that Beijing had no intention of mainland-izing 【內地化】Hong Kong.

Zhang emphasized in his July 20 speech that the central government absolutely did not want to turn Hong Kong into just another Chinese city like Shanghai or Guangzhou or Shenzhen (Wen Wei Po, July 21). But another step was taken in that direction anyway.

The deed has now been done and the precedent set. The nominations of six candidates have been invalidated, not because they refused to sign the new confirmation form but because when asked they refused to disavow their commitment to the idea of Hong Kong independence.

For sure, the practice of party-management prevails across the border. Local universal suffrage elections have been commonplace for years, as have indirect elections for delegates to the people’s congresses above the county level. The catch is that the communist party organization, ubiquitous at every level, decides who can stand as candidates.

The principle of official political vetting has now been introduced here, specifically over the issue of Hong Kong independence. But henceforth there will be other related political issues as well.  In fact, there already are.  For example, Nathan Law who signed all the forms and was cleared to contest the election despite his pending court case, has been told his promotional pamphlets cannot be sent out while the authorities are seeking legal advice. The advice they seek concerns whether words the materials contain such as “self-determination” and “civil referendum” should be allowed.

The prospective candidates who have been denied permission to contest the September 4 election are, in the order they were announced during the past week:

 

Andy Chan Ho-tin, convener, Hong Kong National Party. Independence advocate. He signed the standard nomination form but not the confirmation form and refused to respond when his Returning Officer requested more information.

Yeung Ke-cheong from a little-known new group calling itself the Democratic Progressive Party. He had refused to sign even the original standard nominating form because of the general pledge it contains to uphold the Basic Law.

Nakade Hitsujiko, a fringe candidate associated with Hong Kong Resurgence who calls himself a Hong Kong nationalist; campaigns as a woman in old-style Japanese court dress; advocates, among other things, developing Hong Kong’s sex trade.  Original name: Chung Ming-lun. Signed the confirmation form.

Alice Lai Yi-man, Hong Kong Conservative Party, advocates ultimate self-determination for Hong Kong after its return to Britain.

Chan Kwok-keung, independent; District Councilor elected last November; advocates Hong Kong independence.

Edward Leung Tin-kei, Hong Kong Indigenous. As a candidate in last February’s by-election, he advocated strongly for autonomy but has since upgraded his thinking to focus on independence … until his about-face a few days ago when he signed the confirmation form. His Returning Officer didn’t believe his sudden transformation was genuine. Of the six invalidated candidates, he is the only one who had a realistic chance of winning a seat.

 

hkfocus2017@gmail.com

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on August 3, 2016, titled “Political Vetting for a Hong Kong Election”

 

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LOYALTY OATH

The authorities here are in a real bind. They should be used to it by now, having spent the last 20 years tiptoeing back and forth between the Western-style promises Beijing originally made to Hong Kong and Beijing’s constant demands for mainland-style affirmation. The immediate problem is about keeping up appearances in the name of Hong Kong’s signature “open, fair, and honest” elections … to fill seats in a legislature that has been deliberately designed as companion for an executive-led system that takes its orders from Beijing.

The September 4 Legislative Council election is also taking place in Hong Kong’s post-2014 Occupy protest climate with its new realization that Beijing probably never had any intention of allowing Hong Kong to evolve toward a more Western-style democratic form of government. In any event, official pressures now are all moving in the opposite direction. Local demands for genuine autonomy have grown accordingly.

Had Beijing confronted the contradiction early on and not allowed the misinterpretations to drift for decades, the local sense of deception and grievance might not have been so great. As it is, the number of groups and parties demanding everything from respect for Hong Kong’s local way of life, to “real” autonomy, self-determination, and on to independence have begun to sprout here in soil that has always before been inhospitable to such aims.

So local officials are trying to do what they’ve grown accustomed to doing when trapped between Hong Kong and Beijing: improvise, temporize, and fail to articulate clearly in hopes the problem will go away before they have to say or do more.

In this case: it means keep repeating the promised “one-country, two-systems” guarantees on the one hand, while trying to force Hong Kong to defer to Beijing on the other.   The instrument of attempted coercion: a new loyalty oath for candidates hoping to contest the September 4 election.

NOMINATION PLUS RE-AFFIRMATION          

Nominating procedures are well established. The basic original form, to be signed by the candidate and approved by the electoral authorities, is a 55-page bilingual document in which all the candidates’ bona fides are solemnly attested to. *

To qualify, he/she: must be 21 years of age, a Chinese citizen, permanent resident of Hong Kong, and a registered voter; must have no right-of-abode in any other country; must not be currently serving a prison sentence, mentally incompetent, or bankrupt; must never have been convicted of treason; and must not have served more than a three-month prison sentence within five years prior to the election. The candidate must also agree to uphold Hong Kong’s Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of China.

But then while announcing the start of the nominating period (July 16-29) for the September 4 Legislative Council (Legco) election, the Electoral Affairs Commission 【選管會】in charge of election matters sprang a surprise. Judge Barnabas Fung Wah 【馮驊】who heads the commission issued a statement explaining the new requirement that was apparently a last-minute idea since there had been no prior hint during all the pre-election preparations.

Pledging to uphold the Basic Law is no longer enough. Candidates must also solemnly swear they understand what Beijing means by it! Without prior consultation, legislation, judicial procedure, explanation, or even advice as to what will happen if they don’t: candidates must also sign a “confirmation form” (EAC press release, July 14; Ming Pao, July 15).

On this form 【確認書】candidates again agree to uphold the Basic Law, but with specific reference to Articles 1, 12, and 159(4).

Article 1 says the HKSAR is an “inalienable” part of the People’s Republic of China.

Article 12 states that the HKSAR is a local administrative region of the People’s Republic, which shall enjoy a high degree of autonomy and come directly under the Central People’s Government.

Article 159(4) says that the Basic Law cannot be amended to contravene the basic policies of China regarding Hong Kong.

Candidates are also reminded that according to election regulations, it is an offense to knowingly, or recklessly, make a false or incorrect or incomplete statement on an election related document. **

TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN?

Pro-Beijing and other pro-establishment candidates have no problem with the new ruling. Democrats … whether pro-, pan-, localist, or moderate … are all struggling. Some immediately said they wouldn’t mind signing the form since it wouldn’t prevent them from continuing to champion self-determination and independence. But they’re worried about the possible legal repercussions of not signing, and the possible response from voters if they do.

At a hastily-called meeting with Mr. Justice Fung on July 19, democratic Legislative Councilors failed to convince him to withdraw the new requirement. They also failed to get a straight answer from him as to the consequences of not signing … and specifically whether a prospective candidate could be barred from contesting the election for failing to sign the new pledge. Initial statements indicated it must be signed.

Democrats argued that to ban someone solely for refusing to sign would violate the Basic Law, which attaches no such supplementary conditions to membership in the council. The conditions would also amount to political censorship, political screening, and a violation of free speech … the very bed rock of Hong Kong’s core values, and so on.

In response, citing multiple provisions of the Legislative Council Ordinance and the Electoral Affairs Commission Ordinance, Judge Fung assured them that the new requirement was definitely within the bounds of legality.

He also assured them that the Returning Officers in charge of administering the election in each constituency definitely had the authority to decide whether candidates have complied with all requirements, and to decide whether nominations are valid. If only the Returning Officers actually had clear legal guidelines, which apparently do not yet exist.

In a press release issued soon after the meeting, the Election Affairs Commission added that the Returning Officers would seek legal advice if need be. ***

But in the event a nomination is declared invalid, the only recourse for the prospective candidate would be to seek a judicial review as to the legality of the disqualification. Or he/she could apply for a temporary injunction to block the decision since the election would likely be long over and done with by the time a judgement could be reached (EAC press release, July 19; Ming Pao, July 20).

Strictly speaking, the only prospective candidates to be directly troubled by this new requirement are the few … probably only one … who is a champion of outright independence. That would be Andy Chan Ho-tin of the Hong Kong National Party who says he will not sign the confirmation form. Of course, in his case the government has yet to approve his party’s registration so he is already proceeding without proper authority … although his party has so far been allowed to carry on its activities unhindered.

Additionally, however, the democratic camp as a whole is deliberating and most have now declared their intention not to comply with the new ruling.   These include all Labour Party candidates, all Civic Party candidates, Democratic Party candidates, and four young post-Occupy candidates from Demosisto, Younspiration, and Hong Kong Indigenous.

GAMBLING AGAIN ON AMBIGUITY

As if they hadn’t created enough trouble for themselves here in this way, Beijing leaders seem to be banking again on the dubious benefits of ambiguity since this latest intervention must have come from them. In any event, it is seen as an attempt to discourage “pro-independence” candidates and their supporters ahead of the September 4 election.

Zhang Xiaoming 【張曉明】, head of Beijing’s Hong Kong liaison office went out of his way to say that it wasn’t just a legal issue but a matter of principle. Independence advocates should not be allowed to propagate such ideas. Bringing those people into the Legislative Council would violate the “one country, two systems” policy, which he vowed would not be abandoned (South China Morning Post, Ta Kung Pao, July 21)

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing 【曾鈺成】, current Legco president, founding member of Hong Kong’s main pro-Beijing political party, and a long-time leader within the loyalist community, stepped out of his easy-going public persona to send an even stronger message. If a person refused to sign the new form, he said, it meant the person could not accept Hong Kong as a part of China. Such a person therefore had no business sitting in Hong Kong’s representative assembly. Either sign the form or don’t contest the election (SCMP, TKP, July 22).

Still, it’s hard to conclude that the always-in-sync Jasper Tsang doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. Hong Kong may be an inalienable part of China, but that’s not the problem. The problem lies in the Basic Law.

Local democrats have all along been happy to sign the nomination form pledging themselves to uphold that law. It’s just that they always thought, until recently, that the Basic Law was promising them one kind of autonomy with one kind of universal suffrage elections, whereas what Beijing evidently has in mind is something else entirely: mainland-style autonomy with elections under communist party-management.

That ambiguity has never been acknowledged or clarified by Beijing and now it’s demanding reaffirmation of the same ambiguity.  One-country-two-systems forever, still without definitions.

This latest exercise is nevertheless not without sound practical purpose. Pro-Beijing politicians here have long since mastered the local art of electioneering and regularly outmaneuver idealistic pro-democracy candidates. These habitually contest not to win but just for the experience of contesting … thereby “wasting” tens-of-thousands of votes at every election. Many are once again preparing to do the same.

The logic of the new confirmation form must be to create just enough extra uncertainty and confusion … among candidates and voters … to give “safe” candidates the edge they need to win those five extra seats necessary to pass Beijing’s 8.31 political reform directive (July 11 post).

Muddling matters further is Beijing’s habit … followed by all pro-Beijing discourse on the subject … of lumping everyone in the “independence” category. So whether local activists are just harmless localists, or militant localists, or seekers of genuine universal suffrage, or worse … all are tarnished with the same independence brush.

The new form and all the publicity surrounding it are calculated to exploit that confusion … on the assumption that ordinary Hong Kong voters will not bother to distinguish one pro-democracy advocate from another … and hopefully forsake them all.

 

*  http://www.eac.gov.hk/en/legco/2016lce_candidates_form.htm

 

** http://www.eac.gov.hk/pdf/legco/2016lc/reo-n-confirmation-2016lc.pdf

 

***   For some legal opinions, http://researchblog.law.hku.hk/2016/07/hku-law-scholars-on-confirmation-form.html

 

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on July 22, 2016, titled “Loyalty Oath”

 

hkfocus2017@gmail.com

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BEIJING PUSHES BACK: A Referendum on 8.31?

Anyone following Hong Kong’s political reform saga might well have concluded that the 2014/15 controversy about electing the city’s Chief Executive by universal suffrage was over and done with.

At the very least, Beijing’s restrictive August 31, 2014 (8.31) ultimatum … mandating mainland-style party-managed elections … must be well and truly dead after the June 17, 2015 veto by pro-democracy legislators. It was the 8.31 directive that provoked Hong Kong’s 79-day Occupy street protest in late 2014.

But the controversy is not over. Beijing’s electoral reform design has risen from the ashes of defeat and seems set to fight another day, sooner rather than later.

Evidently the electoral reform project is to be revived with the same Beijing-mandated framework, the same arguments, and the same official players.  Only the action plan will be different.

Instead of a definitive Legislative Council up or down vote on Beijing’s design, the next round is to be played out via the coming, September 4, Legislative Council election. From the look of it, Beijing has an ambitious plan: not just winning more seats for its candidates but also shoring up its authority by saving the day for its 8.31 directive.

The scene was set a year ago when Beijing leader Zhang Dejiang encouraged pro-Beijing politicians to win more seats in Hong Kong’s next Legislative Council election (Wen Wei Po, South China Morning Post, July 25, 2015). It was during a duty visit, the first after loyalists and their allies in the council failed to break pan-democrats’ vow to veto 8.31.  Just five more seats would give their opponents the two-thirds majority needed to override that veto.

But if Zhang’s intention was to reintroduce the very same reform bill, drafted by the Hong Kong government in compliance with Beijing’s August 31 directive, no one actually said so … until now.

RE-INTRODUCING 8.31

 Campaigning for the September 4 election is well underway and enthusiastic candidates are struggling to distinguish themselves one from the other. Too many hopefuls chasing too few seats (June 27 post). But most of the talking is being done by pro-democracy partisans and they are almost all thinking in more comprehensive terms … terms that reflect local fears about the growing pressures to “mainlandize” key aspects of Hong Kong’s political life.

The year 2047 now looms large in these debates that are trying to anticipate how best to protect Hong Kong’s inherited rights and freedoms. Beijing was only willing to guarantee the local way of political life for 50 years, that is, 50 years from 1997, when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule. Hence the preoccupation with evolving political trends, now that the first 20 years of that 50-year guarantee have expired. But there has so far been no renewed discussion about the specifics of Beijing’s 8.31 electoral reform mandate.

That’s why the full-page spread in the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao on June 23 looked so out of place. There seemed to be no particular reason for a banner headline that came out of nowhere to proclaim: “The central government is truly sincere in promoting the democratic development of Hong Kong’s political system: the 8.31 decision points clearly in the direction of universal suffrage.”

More than that, the 8.31 directive: “is a historic document that not only gives Hong Kong’s five million eligible voters the opportunity to elect their Chief Executive by one-person-one-vote beginning in 2017.   At the same time, and besides designating the principles for the concrete methods of electing Hong Kong’s Chief Executive by universal suffrage, the directive points the clear way forward, with the effect of law that cannot be changed.”

The article also reviewed the details of the directive … complete with the old 1,200-member Election Committee scheduled for a simple name change to become the Nominating Committee that is to endorse, by a 50% vote, two or three candidates.   Readers were reminded that the directive is constitutional and legal and guarantees elections that will be open, fair, and just.

Short companion pieces reinforced the message by invoking relevant passages from Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution and the June 10, 2014 White Paper.  The latter was issued by Beijing in the midst of the electoral reform controversy and had startled Hong Kong with a blunt declaration that Beijing enjoyed comprehensive jurisdiction【全面管治權】 over all such matters including the high degree of autonomy that Hong Kongers were taking too much to heart (June 12, 2014 post).

Readers were also reminded that it had been pro-democracy legislators who vetoed the Hong Kong government’s bill, drafted in conformity with 8.31, thereby depriving Hong Kong citizens of the chance to elect their Chief Executive in 2017 (TKP, June 23).

 OFFICIALS JOIN THE CAMPAIGN

 Then, after having spent the past year pouring cold water on all suggestions about reviving discussion of electoral reform, the Hong Kong government’s two top officials have come forward with happy faces full of smiles to say just the opposite.

At a July 2 forum sponsored by ex-Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong’s new moderate Path of Democracy 【民主思路】think tank, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said she hoped the new, 2017-22, administration would be able to restart the electoral reform process. She spoke in unfamiliar terms … about political legitimacy and popular mandates … and about the Hong Kong government’s need for greater authority of the sort that can only come from a government elected by the people 【人民授權】 (Ming Pao, South China Morning Post, July 3).

So, career civil servant Carrie Lam has discovered the virtues of a popular mandate. And so has Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. A few days later, speaking to journalists, he volunteered similar sentiments, even though no one had asked.

He said that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive should be elected by universal suffrage as soon as possible. To be elected by one-person, one-vote would give the executive greater authority 【認受性】 and it was everyone’s hope … here and in Beijing … that such an election would come to pass.

Leung acknowledged the difficulty of overcoming democratic opposition as reflected in last year’s veto. But Leung said that both democratic legislators and Beijing would have to find ways of narrowing their differences. He said he had done what he could to try and bring the two sides together … but so far to no avail (Ming Pao, SCMP, July 6).

Leung nevertheless ended his July 5 press briefing with an enthusiastic pitch: “We must bridge differences; only then can we accomplish political reform. To do political reform work well is in fact the common aspiration of Hong Kongers and the government, including I myself and the central government, something for everyone to energetically strive for and accomplish.” *

Something is obviously going on. But what? A decision has evidently been made to revive electoral reform ahead of the September 4 Legislative Council election, which will make the election in effect a referendum on 8.31.

Leung Chun-ying’s reference to differences on both sides that need to be bridged might be a sign that Beijing is toying with the idea of making some concessions. The engaging velvet-glove presentations by Leung and Lam suggest the same. Or do they ?

That full-page reminder as to the iron-clad unwavering effect-of-law components of the 8.31 directive indicate otherwise.

Or it might be some combination of both … with a carefully thought-out strategy designed to exploit the opportunities being offered by September’s Legislative Council election.

The pro-establishment camp (composed of Beijing loyalists plus conservative allies) is far more cohesive than pan- and pro-democrats. And all their opponents need is five more Legislative Council seats in order to achieve the two-thirds super-majority required for passage of the 8.31 electoral reform package as is.

With the hint of a possible compromise by Beijing … if only democrats will cooperate … Leung and Lam are tempting voters to consider the significance of electing their Chief Executive. But for that to happen, they will need to look favorably upon the most moderate candidates … those most likely to accept Beijing’s rules of engagement.

Or pro-democracy partisans might simply squander their votes by dividing them up among the multiplicity of pro-democracy candidate lists that grow more numerous by the day.

 

* http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201607/05/P201607050391_print.htm

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on July 11, 2016.

This article was re-posted by Hong Kong Free Press:  https://www.hongkongfp.com/author/suzannepepper/

 

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