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Hong Kong elections: A tale of wind and sun

Poll results reveal growing dissatisfaction with Beijing's intrusion in the special administrative region’s affairs

Hong Kong elections: A tale of wind and sun

Electoral officials empty a ballot box for counting after voting stations closed for the Legislative Council election in Hong Kong, early on Sept. 5. (Photo by AFP)

Since 2000, there has always been two major events which take place back-to-back: the summer Olympic Games and Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) elections.

Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, crowds in Hong Kong gathered to cheer on the torch relay and wave the Chinese national flag. Some Tibet activists were assaulted by spectators and got bad press from the media.

This year, the Hong Kong government spent around US$900,000 welcoming Chinese medalists to the city but locals were wondering why public money was spent celebrating mainland athletes instead of their own representatives.

That and several other incidents during this year's games revealed somewhat different attitudes among Hong Kong locals towards China's Olympic ambitions as opposed to 2008.

The same could be said for when it comes to how Hong Kong voted in this year's LegCo, reflecting dissatisfaction that many have with the intensifying intrusion upon their affairs by China's ruling Communist Party.

In 2008, the pro-Beijing alliance won 37 seats in the 60-strong legislature. This is formed in two equal sectors, one of which is composed of geographical constituencies (GCs) with an electorate of 3.7 million voters, i.e. all registered voters in Hong Kong. Then about 240,000 of them, mostly professionals, businessmen or representatives of corporations, cast a second vote in the functional constituencies (FCs) to choose the remaining 30 members.

Pro-Beijing parties, whose majority has already been guaranteed by the FCs, had a small rise from the election before in the popular vote going from 37.3 percent to 39.8 percent in 2008, which was first time in history that they managed to obtain a popular support as much as 40 percent. This year, the pro-Beijing parties got 38.3 percent of the vote.

During this year's campaign, pro-Beijing parties kept talking about the 79-day blockade of the central business district area by the Umbrella Movement in 2014. They also promoted issues related to law and order.

Pro-Beijing parties also tried to trigger people's anger towards the opposition's past attempts to delay bills and budgets through a "dual majority" in both the GCs and FCs. Voting for pro-Beijing parties they said would guarantee a smooth functioning government.

The pan-democrats, the major force in the opposition since the introduction of party politics in the 1990s, have over time become less and less popular. By the 2012 election, their support dropped significantly to less than 57 percent, losing the rough 3:2 balance which they managed to maintain in 2008.

However this year, Hong Kong people not fond of Beijing had other options at the polls with new parties' fronted by young candidates advocating for independence or self-determination.

If any advocate for Hong Kong independence traveled by time machine back to 1984, when the Joint Declaration was signed, or to 1997 when the handover of Hong Kong occurred, they would probably would find themselves regarded a fool.

But 2016's reality is that Hong Kong cannot even bargain to purchase less Dongjiang water from China when we had an overflow of water from our own reservoirs. We now live in a world where the considerations of the Beijing authorities always override the will of the Hong Kong population.

In a by-election held in February 2016, a newly emerged localist Edward Leung got 66,000 votes, or 15 percent of the total turnout. After the poll, Leung, a young university student, suggested that an era of "Three Kingdoms" had emerged.

The Three Kingdoms (AD 220-280) was a period when three states existed equally in ancient China. Leung referred to it in relation to the three major divisions in Hong Kong — the pro-Beijing parties, the pan-democrats and the localists.

For a city famous for low electoral participation, this year there was a record-high turnout rate of 58 percent, 2.2 million voters queued outside polling stations.

The queue outside a polling station in one middle class area was so long that the last voter casted their vote at 2.30 a.m., four hours after the designated closing time.

But when referring to the election results it seems that there was no genuine victor. The pro-Beijing parties could not extend their support to any point further than 40 percent; failing to clinch the "dual majority," they suffered a deficit of one seat in GCs, and three seats in total.

With 20 percent of voters changing to support localists, self-determinists or separationists, the pan-democrats' share of the vote dropped to 36 percent, with at least four incumbents defeated, three of which were senior politicians.

In their first general election, the localists managed to form a bridgehead of six seats, but a main separationist leader, incumbent Wong Yuk-man, lost in his bid for a third term, and his separationist alliance only won one seat out of five contested.

If anyone can be considered a "winner", it must be the young candidates. Voters seemed willing to support the new generation of the major Pan-democrat parties.

In the competitive FC for local councilors, while both the Democratic Party's two candidates won their seats, Roy Kwong, a 33-year-old writer, outscored his veteran comrade James To by 250,000 votes.

It is yet premature to conclude whether the emergence of a localist force in the Hong Kong legislature is really a signal of a crisis of separatism along the south coast of China, or merely a coincidence amid a shift in confidence from senior politicians to young activists.

At the same time, there were in fact some much more worrying developments.

The candidate in the earlier by-election, Edward Leung, was among several people whose candidacies for this election were refused because of their pro-independence stance.

In the New Territories West constituency, part of which involves rural development and underlying interest thereon, at least two candidates alleged publicly that they had been intimidated. Chow Wing-kan claimed that he was forced to suspend his campaign while veteran activist Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, the winner of highest number of votes among all GC candidates, stayed away from his own premises days after the election.

The current situation is more or less like the tale of the wind and the sun. It will not be difficult to tell from the election how strong the "wind" is; it is up to the ruler to decide if it wants to use stronger winds to "blow" out resistance in Hong Kong, or if it uses "sunlight" to make resistance no longer necessary.

For instance, in an era of Three Kingdoms, it shall not be difficult to understand what the implications will be, if more and more people find no alternative other than to resist.

Charles Tsang contributes to several Hong Kong online media and holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of London.

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