Posted:  March 2, 2016


What should have been a walk-over for the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu was transformed into a nail-biter by Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous. They were contesting the February 28 special election. Yeung ultimately won but with only a narrow margin of 10,000 votes.  Both the new group and its candidate were all but unknown a month ago …  before Edward Leung and his friends staged their first campaign “event” in Mong Kok on February 8. (Feb. 19 post).

The February 8-9 Mong Kok riot rocketed Leung and his group not to infamy but to fame and allowed them to generate a far wider audience for their “Hong Kong first” platform than Facebook alone could ever have done.

So much so that Leung was able to cut into the voter base of Alvin Yeung who was  representing in this election not just his own Civic Party but the pro-democracy camp as a whole.  From there, Edward Leung’s candidacy might have swung the election to their common adversary and the pro-Beijing camp’s sole candidate, Holden Chow Ho-ding. Chow is vice-chairman of Hong Kong’s largest political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).

There wasn’t much time, less than a month after the Mong Kok dust had settled and it became clear what had happened. It also quickly became clear that Leung’s adventure was capturing the imaginations of many potential voters. But for once pan-democrats rose to the occasion, circled the wagons, and presented as solid a united front as they have ever been able to do. Pro-Beijing politicians have built their electoral success on the perpetual effort by Hong Kong’s many pro-democracy parties each to grow their own individualized “market share” at the expense of their like-minded colleagues (Feb. 25 post).

The special election had to be called because of that same tendency. The seat was vacated by Ronny Tong Ka-wah last June in the New Territories East constituency, one of five that divide Hong Kong for the purpose of electing its 70-member Legislative Council.

Tong resigned from the Civic Party at the same time, over what he felt was a betrayal of its original goals. He was among the party’s founding members, in 2006, when he had wanted to build political bridges between Beijing and Hong Kong in the name of democratic development. He still does and cannot bring himself to acknowledge the resistance he sees growing all around him.   The original formula for Hong Kong’s return to China ….that everyone assumed would be preserved indefinitely … is eroding at an ever accelerating pace and local resistance has grown accordingly.

For Tong, the last straw was everyone’s decision last year to veto Beijing’s political reform mandate for the 2017 Chief Executive election.  “Everyone” meant the entire 27-member pro-democracy caucus within the Legislative Council. He didn’t agree with the Civic Party’s “radical” 2010 referendum idea, or anything about the 2014 Occupy Central campaign, or his party’s willingness to veto Beijing’s political reform proposal last year.

Tong has now formed a new group of his own.  Its aim is to work toward building the “third force” moderate middle way of the sort he has always idealized.

The Civic Party’s choice to replace him was a young man Tong had mentored. But Alvin Yeung did not follow his mentor’s moderate political lead and in return did not receive his endorsement.

New Territories East, located in Hong Kong’s northeastern suburbs bordering China, has some 940,000 registered voters including both new town residents and the “indigenous” locals. These last were once mostly all rural but are no longer. The English word indigenous has traditionally been used here with reference to Hong Kong’s original inhabitants or those with roots in the area that pre-date Britain’s arrival in the mid-19th century.

The term has no negative connotations … or at least it didn’t until recently. Now it’s being put to use by the current generation of political activists, like Edward Leung, to differentiate Hong Kong residents, culture, and interests from the mainland Chinese counterparts that have crowded in since the British left in 1997.

Vote counts for the entire list of candidates:   YEUNG, Alvin Ngok-kiu, CIVIC PARTY, 160,880 votes; CHOW, Holden Ho-ding, DAB, 150,329 votes; LEUNG, Edward Tin-kei, HONG KONG INDIGENOUS, 66,524 votes; FONG, Christine Kwok-shan, IND.,33,424 votes; WONG, Nelson Sing-chi, THIRD SIDE, 17,295, votes; LAU Chi-shing, IND., 2,271 votes; LEUNG, Albert Sze-ho, IND.,1,858 votes.

Turnout was 434,000 or 46% of the 540,000 registered voters … down from 54% in the last, 2012, general election.

LOSERS: Ronny Tong, Nelson Wong, the DAB

And the loss couldn’t have come with greater irony. Both Tong and Nelson Wong, the latter recently expelled from the Democratic Party for breaking ranks over the 2015 veto, have said they deplore the growing polarization between Beijing and Hong Kong. Both are looking for a middle way, without specifying what they think that might mean or how to achieve it.  The English name for Wong’s new group is Third Side.

But after digesting novice candidate Edward Leung’s vote count, editorial writers and commentators are heralding the advent of a new “third force” on the electoral scene. So is Leung himself. Only it isn’t a moderate middle way that’s being hailed. The biggest loser last Sunday was Tong’s fading plea for an old dream that he hasn’t updated since the 1990s … before Hong Kong had experienced almost two decades of cross-border pressures to integrate.

During a campaign stop last Sunday, Leung mocked Nelson Wong as one of the “old boys” … still locked in the mindset of 1989. The reference is to the 1989 crackdown in Beijing that is still memorialized each year on June Fourth by the founders of Hong Kong’s democracy movement … still using the same name for their organization: Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

Give up the old baggage, say the new-wave “indigenous” locals … our struggle is here and now in Hong Kong. The 1980s mainland democracy movement is not our concern. This is the crowd that has boycotted the June Fourth vigil in Victoria Park for the past two years, with more support last June from university students for the boycott than the year before.

The DAB’s “loss,” on the other hand, has a curious feel to it, as if they were holding their fire. The campaign teams were out as usual. But the confident bravado of just a few months ago was missing. Outside each train station on the line running north from Kowloon through the New Territories, only three candidate teams were canvassing on Election Day last Sunday: Hong Kong Indigenous, the Civic Party, and the DAB … with energy and enthusiasm coming only from the first two.

DAB teams had the requisite number of posters and volunteers and petitions for passersby to sign deploring the Mong Kok violence … but not much else. By noon, when everyone comes out for Sunday lunch and shopping, the DAB teams didn’t even seem to have enough handouts for interested people passing by.

Maybe it was just good campaign sense, along with the knowledge that momentum was on the other side and best not  further provoked. Time enough to escalate the rhetoric against “radical separatists” later, after votes were cast and counted.

Or there might have been another reason: the DAB’s New Territories pro-establishment allies seem out-of-sorts lately. Liberal Party Legislative Councilor James Tien represents that same constituency. Yet he did not attend Holden Chow’s inaugural event when campaigning began, a customary courtesy that Tien let pass.  Also, indigenous (real, not radical) rural leaders are planning to set up their own political party to contest elections, reportedly because they feel their interests are not being adequately served despite their close association with the DAB since 1997.

WINNERS: Alvin, Edward, and Raymond Wong Yuk-man

Alvin Yeung performed well. But he probably had more big name surrogates backing him on the campaign trail than he will ever have again. His real test will come next fall when he’ll be performing essentially on his own as one of many pan-democrats competing for the same pool of voters. In 2012, that constituency had a total of eight pro-democracy candidate lists. They won six of the district’s nine Legislative Council seats.

But the big surprise was novice candidate Edward Leung’s campaign. It scored on many counts:   the unexpectedly high number of votes he received; the energetic articulate well-funded campaign he headed; his unapologetic devotion to violence; his plans for the September Legislative Council election; and his mentor, the irrepressible irascible Raymond “Mad Dog” Wong Yuk-man.

The combination spells trouble down the road since Leung’s 66,000 votes represent the degree of genuine public resentment that has accumulated over Beijing’s unrelieved push for cross-border integration. But his campaign also violates the basic norms that have kept protest here within containable tolerable limits. He says that’s just the problem: containable and consequently futile.

He made over a dozen campaign stops around the district on Sunday and his mostly young campaign volunteers seemed to outnumber all the others. Nor were they all young. In fact, there were many oldsters among all the teams … including Raymond Wong who accompanied his latest protégée throughout the day.

Someone with good professional design sense had also obviously helped put the campaign together: blue and white campaign wear for everyone, blue and white campaign posters, and enough blue and white fliers explaining Leung’s ideas to make up for the government’s refusal to help with distribution due to the potentially seditious nature of his message. It also came with a website English translation:

The trouble his campaign anticipates was flagged later by the candidate himself after the vote count was announced. He hailed it as the first successful blow for localism and looked forward to landing more … during the September election. He predicted a new third force would emerge in the Legislative Council: pro-establishment; conventional pan-democrat; and localist.

He also attributed his success to the Mong Kok riot his group had precipitated as a campaign event, referring to it as the “battle of Mong Kok.” He said it showed his people are not afraid to practice what they preach.

At a press conference on Monday, he and some older friends announced their plans for the September election. The older friends are Horace Chin, acknowledged godfather of the localism idea he has elaborated in his writings, and Raymond Wong Yuk-man. Wong is back on the campaign trail. And with him will come a host of troubles for pan-democrats because he is an unrepentant champion of the “parachute” strategy that he promoted to disastrous results in the 2011 District Councils election.

The aim then was to teach Democratic Party leader Albert Ho a lesson for his 2010 compromise with Beijing on an earlier political reform proposal.  Raymond Wong has yet to disavow the strategy that allowed pro-establishment forces to consolidate their majorities within all of Hong Kong’s District Councils.

On the contrary. Wong was seen giving the thumbs-up at a Civic Passion rally during last year’s District Councils election campaign. The rally was for a young Civic Passion parachute-jumper in Albert Ho’s constituency who achieved what was presumably intended. Ho went down to defeat and the beneficiary was pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho … who made headlines recently by saying the police in Mong Kok were too lenient. Protesters should have been shot. Wong’s deliberate targeting of other democrats is what has made him the target of persistent rumors that he is actually a mole, working for Beijing!

The localist plan for September is to contest a seat in each of Hong Kong’s five Legislative Council election districts. Horace Chin plans to be a candidate. So does Wong Yeung-tat of Civic Passion. Raymond Wong is an incumbent and plans to run again.

One of their demands will be to focus on Article 5 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The idea is to campaign for an amendment to eliminate the 2047 time limit for one-country, two-systems Hong Kong autonomy.

Too bad mainstream pan-democrats have steadfastly ignored this solution since it could effectively reduce much of the tension being created by Beijing’s ongoing mainland-ization efforts. Now that Horace Chin plans to make it part of his city-state quasi-autonomy platform, Beijing will surely pin a subversive label on the idea.  Still, better late than even later.  Planks in political platforms are a first step that anyone can pick up and run with if they care to improvise and adapt …

Posted by Suzanne Pepper on March 2, 2016.


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