Political Risers: Wong Yeung-tat, The Emperor of localism

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People either love or hate Civic Passion’s icon Wong Yeung-tat (黃洋達). This white-framed rogue has eschewed independence in favour of a never-ending Basic Law – for now.

Localists hit the public eye when they launched a series of raucous protests against mainland Chinese parallel traders and tourists in 2015. Wong Yeung-tat (黃洋達), who co-founded localist group Civic Passion, was one of the localist leaders organising protests against the parallel traders, establishing a public persona as a white-spectacled rogue. In his second attempt at a Legco seat (running in the last election as a People Power candidate), Wong now finds himself in the position of a moderate, his ‘revise the Basic Law’ position making him seem tame compared to advocates of Hong Kong independence.

First, a writer

The Proletariat Political Institute (PPI)-Civic Passion-Hong Kong Resurgence Order (HKRO) electoral alliance flew their flag in the recently concluded Hong Kong Book Fair 2016. In addition to selling the political commentary of ‘Mad Dog’ Raymond Wong Yuk-man (黃毓民) and classical Chinese language series of Horace Chin Wan-kan (陳雲根), aka Chin Wan, the booth hawked hundreds of copies of Wong’s popular fiction featuring bankers gone bad. For Wong, the pen came before the political sword.

As a TV & film studies graduate in Hong Kong Baptist University, he started work as a scriptwriter in Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB), Hong Kong’s biggest TV broadcaster. His finance-focused fiction aims to awaken the readers to many social problems of society.

Fighter, orator, emperor

The 2010 political reform vote caused many young people to lose faith in the traditional pan-democrats (Democratic Party and Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood) for compromising with Beijing during the democratic reform negotiations. It marked a turning point in Hong Kong politics, according to Wong, who claims younger generations do not trust the pan-democrats anymore.

In 2012, Wong formed Civic Passion along with his wife and friends out of frustration towards pan-democrats. It began as a movement to support his campaign in 2012 Legco election. After losing the election, the Civic Passion leader founded Passion Times, one of the leading localist media outlets in Hong Kong.

“I think one of the reasons I lost the race is the mainstream media never reports the stories of localists, or even if they do, they distort the image of localists. Localists need a platform to speak for themselves,” Wong explains. Every week, Wong hosts an online broadcast programme on Passion Times. His biting and sarcastic style won the support of some die-hard localists, particularly young people.

Wong has been busy since his last Legco run. From writing books, hosting broadcast programmes to managing the publications of Passion Times, he has taken up political action to organise and lead numerous protests against the government, pan-democrats, mainland Chinese travellers and parallel traders.

He has earned the nickname ‘The Emperor’ (皇上). Some say it comes from his status as a power-broker in the radical anti-establishment group, while other suggest his autocratic style deserves the moniker. Wong masterminds Civic Passion’s operation strategy from propaganda to street action. This role drives his popularity, but also generates criticism in social movement circles.

“Localists need a platform to speak for themselves.” 

Do as I want

Wong and Civic Passion, in the past four years, have provoked the full gamut of political reactions ranging from love to hate, support to denouncement, appreciation to denigration. The activist group, along with like-minded ideologues, have organised several rallies against mainland Chinese immigrants, travellers and parallel traders. They won applause when the baby formula ban was enforced by the Hong Kong government, and the policy of ‘multiple-entry permits’ was cancelled by Shenzhen municipal government. However, they were also accused by other social activists of propagating populist, discriminatory and hateful speech and acts against mainland Chinese people.

As for Wong, he seems does not care much about the negative comments.

“In Hong Kong’s social movement circles, criticisms between rival sectors is a norm. It can be related to sectoral interests,” Wong says. “We also have close connections to the communities, and according to the opinions we’ve collected, it seems we’ve done the right thing. I don’t feel Civic Passion is under criticism.”

“Moreover, many Civic Passion members are not from traditional political and social movement circles, but from ordinary young generations,” Wong tells Harbour Times. His connections with traditional networks are all business. “I myself have no personal, but only business, connections with people in these circles.”

“I myself have no personal, but only business, connections with related people in these circles,” says Wong.

Constitutional reform is the future

It is Wong’s second run at a Legco seat. As a member of PPI-Civic Passion-HKRO electoral alliance, he is part of the team promoting a ‘de-facto referendum on constitutional reform’ (五區公投,全民制憲). If all five members of the alliance are elected, they will resign and force a by-election where they will campaign on a ‘amend the Basic Law’ platform. In their minds, this will act as a de facto referendum, assuming they only have one opponent who agrees to campaign on the same issue.

The ‘de-facto referendum’ is not a new idea. The concept of constitutional reform originally comes from The Frontier, a pro-democracy political group founded by Emily Lau Wai-hing (劉慧卿, outgoing Chair of the Democratic Party) in 1996 and dissolved in 2008. Its first conception, in 2010, created a by-election in five geographical constituencies but received little support. Chin Wan, in his book Hong Kong as a City-State, also suggests ‘extending the validity of the the Basic Law permanently’ (永續基本法). By contrast, Wong believes amending the current Basic Law is the solution to saving Hong Kong, and it is his duty as a candidate to promote this idea.

“Instead of promoting the achievements of Civic Passion, I do think it is time to combine the ‘de-facto referendum’ and constitutional reform into one thing – force the Hong Kong government to sign a contract with Hong Kong people,” Wong elaborates. “We would tell the voters what the alliance is going to do, rather than what we have done in the past.”  

“The Legco itself has already run is useful course, and our ‘de-facto referendum’ is making use of the seats to convince Hong Kong people to accept our suggestion,” Wong adds. “I hate those who see the [Legco] seat as merely [a means to advance] their personal career.”

The rosy picture he paints may not convince voters. In mid-July, the opinion poll published by the University of Hong Kong shows Wong ranking in sixth place in Kowloon East. Only five seats are on offer and Wong is far behind behind the fifth place candidate Paul ‘Superman of the Law’ Tse Wai-chun (謝偉俊). Wong ignores polls, cleaving to the old maxim that the only poll that matters is the one on election day.

“The opinion samples are all collected through fixed network telephone numbers, and it is far from accurate to tell the whole picture. I never pay attention to this kind of poll,” Wong emphasises.

But as the call of political independence attracts adherents, Wong’s moderate stance may shift in pursuit of radical voters if his middle road of preserving the Basic Law beyond 2047 proves unfruitful. But for this election, this writer-politician has his referendum and Basic Law neverendum to campaign on. Watch Wong to see how he – and the voters –  write the next chapter of his political story.

Other line-ups in Kowloon East constituency include (only headliners are named): Wilson Or Chong-sing (柯創盛), Wu Chi-wai (胡志偉), Chan Chak-to (陳澤滔), Suzanne Wu Sui-shan (胡穗珊), Mandy Tam Heung-man (譚香文), Wong Kwok-kin (黃國健), Jeremy Tam Man-ho (譚文豪), Paul Tse Wai-chun (謝偉俊), Lui Wing-kei (呂永基), ‘Fastbeat’ Tam Tak-chi (譚得志) and Patrick Ko Tat-pun (高達斌).