Gone are the days when hoards of youngsters cheered over their election defeat. With ongoing mass arrests and convictions the localist sensation is largely off the talk of the day. Once a fast emerging political pillar beyond Hong Kong’s party politics pitting the democrats against the establishments ever since the Legislative Council (Legco) had its first elected seats some three decades ago, localists are now only a shadow of their former self with rights to stand in elections seemingly for ever been deprived. Even the mere talk of self-determination, without a concrete definition or roadmap, could well shut the door for anybody to stand for, or assume a representative office. This arbitrary abuse of power by returning officers and government prosecutors is now affirmed by a judge in the case of Chan Ho-tin’s election petition.
This is not, however, to say that Hong Kong politics is heading back to bipartite confrontation. In the Legco by-election concluded on 11 March, centrist Christine Fong Kwok-shan’s glorious defeat is a clear prove that centrists are fast becoming a heavyweight who can still be allowed to run when Xi Jinping’s coronation and comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong is the realpolitik of our time.
“It takes about 20 minutes to get to Legco building [from Tseung Kwan O, where Sai Kung District Council is seated]” is how Ms Fong responded to a questions on her scheduling District Council and Legco meetings attendance raised in a televised debate aired 34 hours ahead of the poll. Such a pure honesty is rarely seen in a totally dysfunctional legislature pitting absolute submission to Beijing’s directives against a hopeless ideology of aimless struggle. Ms Fong, a nonpartisan Sai Kung district councillor who had run five consecutive times in Legco New Territories East races since 2008, managed to retain over 15 per cent of total votes casted under a first-past-the-post by-election voting system, an almost identical result to what Edward Leung Tin-Kei had achieved in 2016 by-election. With exit polls still ongoing it is not immediately clear how many localist voters boycotted this by-election, given the turnout rate was recorded at somewhat 43 per cent, a sharp drop from 58 per cent of registered voters who came out in 2016 Legco general election. However, it is indicative that perpetually depriving youngsters from entering politics might in the coming years unintentionally boost popular support for centrists, currently only represented by Pierre Chan of Medical Functional Constituency.
But the most significant support for centrists and livelihood issues will undoubtedly come from the democrats’ disorientation and power struggle from within. Although largely saved from Benny Tai’s ThunderGo plan and democrat voters’ consistent delusion, democrat politicians were already in decline in the 2016 Legco general election. The declination has now become fully evident in the past by-election, when their propaganda of combating lawmakers’ disqualification met with a cool public reception. Edward Yiu Chung-yim, the only disqualified lawmaker running for re-election this time, even lost to a pro-Beijing first-time runner of a rich family in the only recorded pan-democrat camp’s popular ballot defeat since the Handover. Mr Yiu, who campaigned half-heartedly, had trouble focusing and was seen repeating the same words in the last two televised debates, ran under the slogan of a de fecto referendum on government’s disqualification of candidates and elected representatives. However, Mr Yiu did not seem to comprehend the referendum result when he exhausted excuses of technicalities in responding to the press after his request of a recount affirmed his defeat just after dawn on 12 March. No wonder Frederick Fung Kin-kee of Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, whom Mr Yiu ousted in primaries and refused to run in Mr Yiu’s replacement in case of his disqualification, responded shortly after that “even if they insist on scapegoating, they should at least find a convincing one.”
Ms Fong, however, concluded her centrist campaign differently, with the electorate in mind. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say that I’m disappointed of the result because the people’s support was all that made my rerunning possible,” as Ms Fong went on telling the media that unreasonable politicisation of certain issues, disqualification saga and the relations between Hong Kong the central government included, made voices on livelihood issues and district works underrepresented. Yet Ms Fong remains confident that her continued canvassing of considerable numbers of votes does suggest that centrism has a viability of being proportionally represented in the Legco one day. Still struggling over whether to go on raising funds from the public to finance her campaigns, Ms Fong does leave the question of another round of election open. “Never stop, never give up” was all that she left with us this time.
Who knows? Perhaps the localist reorganisation and the centrist tenacity will result in a reshaped parliament in 2020. Clock is ticking. Better get to work now.
By Hongyu Wang