Ripples of Occupy One Year On: Localism in HK’s District Council elections

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Localists will fight the good fight in the upcoming district council elections. Pundits are not betting on them to win this round. Like Rocky, we’ll have to wait for the sequel.

Photo: ‘Youngspirators’ chanting, “Hongkongers, let’s win this together!” 

Lost today, win tomorrow

Youngspiration, one of the most prominent localist groups in the city with some 140 members, formally announced on September 20 their plan to field nine candidates – all at their twenties – in four districts (Central & Western, Yau Tsim Mong, Kowloon City, and Kwai Tsing). Baggio Leung Chung-hang (梁頌恆), the group’s convenor, will likely take on the pro-establishment heavyweight Ip Kwok-him (葉國謙; DAB, FC-DC 1st) at Kwun Lung constituency in Central & Western district. Leung’s compatriot, Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) will seek to end LegCo member (BPA, GC-Kowloon West) Priscilla Leung’s (梁美芬) stake in Whampoa East constituency in Kowloon City.

“We know these are tough odds to beat,” Baggio Leung said after the announcement. “But as time passes by, we think the results really depend on the turnout rate of the polls.”

Previous figures, however, are not encouraging. In the 2011 DC elections, young voters (aged 18-30) only constituted about 16% of the voting population while their turnout rate stood at 12.3% of the total figure.

A house divided

More intriguing is the fact that the ‘Youngspirators’ will also run against the democrats, who are fielding 95 candidates in the upcoming polls. Power of Democracy, a body that coordinates pan-dems electoral efforts, recently anticipated clashes among post-Occupy groups and traditional pan-dem parties in no fewer than 15 constituencies. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, the body’s convenor, worried that ‘the wolf would win as the shepherds quarrel’.

“We are definitely not Beijing loyalists, nor are we pan-democrats,” Baggio Leung explained. “The democrats, owing to their own deficiencies, would not be able to capture all the pro-democracy votes in any case. As a new force, we stand to further Hongkongers’ democratic mobilisation capacity.”

Prominent political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu (劉銳紹) is not particularly optimistic about the initiatives. Lau says these new groups, and indeed the pro-democracy camp in general, lack the depth of community outreach of their pro-establishment rivals.

“We are not talking about the Legislative Council elections where political ideologies or aspirations do play a role. When it comes to district councils, the one who serves longer for the local community almost always wins the day. Therefore, it is unlikely that we will witness some substantial changes to the political landscape in DCs which is dominated by pro-establishment force.” Lau explains. “That being said, I’m glad to see new blood who may at some point lead another wave of democratisation in the city.”

The fool David

Speaking at the Youngspiration DC inauguration ceremony, another renowned commentator Lee Yee (李怡) described the localists as ‘fools’ with reference to ‘The Wise Man, the Fool and the Slave’ (聰明人和傻子和奴才)’ by Lu Xun (魯迅).

“The Slave is one who simply follows the orders from his senior – Beijing in this case; The Wise Man is an opportunist who has no ideological obligation, and will eventually become a slave; The Fool, on the other hand, is one who sticks to his commitment even though there are more profitable alternatives.” Lau says. “Localism is like a ‘David versus Goliath’ scenario right now, and I hope our young people will remain to fight for their aspirations like the fool David.”