The inchoate awareness of home-grown radicalism led by the lynch mob for C. Y. Leung’s blood has driven the psyche in the Hong Kong government off the rails.

On Tuesday, the nomination of Edward Leung Tin-kei, a 25-year-old student activist of Hong Kong Indigenous who is well known for his radical pro-independence platform, was ruled invalid by the Electoral Affairs Commission. Leung junked the self-determination clause by signing a controversial ‘confirmation form’ as required by the election watchdog.

However, citing his Facebook posts and media reports on his political stance as evidence, the returning officer involved in this case doesn’t seem to change a smidgen but thwarts Leung’s plan to get into the race, riding roughshod over the majority views and the important principle of remaining politically neutral as a career civil servant.

Of course, supporters of Leung, who are preponderantly young voters in their 20s and 30s, seethed with indignation when hearing about the invalidation. I don’t think the returning officer, who is a very senior administrative officer, is caught unawares by the legal proceedings that the government may encounter. Leung has indicated his intention to file for judicial review or injunction, but we have no idea how much time it takes for the court to process the case and whether he could run in the election or not as scheduled in September.

It is unlikely that the returning officer is the sole person making the decision, but thus far, we have no evidence showing the Mainland Chinese interference in this case. As a civil servant in the regime, the officer is supposed to follow orders irrespective of governments of different political persuasions.

Edward Leung Tin-kei
Edward Leung Tin-kei. Photo: Cloud.

I’m not privy to the thoughts of Edward Leung, who many people may see as irascible, uncouth, dangerous and a frightening loose cannon for his advocacy for the city’s independence from Mainland China and his involvement in the Mong Kok riots on Lunar New Year Day this year. The tremor of his colossal 66,524 votes gained in the LegCo by-election in February is rippling through the choppy waters of post-occupy political landscape in Hong Kong, and in particular, the upcoming LegCo election in September.

Of course, central authorities in Beijing and pro-establishment camp would do whatever they can to scupper the chance of radicals getting the job, which is inimical to their political power. However, if we trace how the penchant for independence gains traction, the localists’ visceral language of political mud-slinging isn’t just thrown at the incorrigible pro-government tribe, but actually, much of this so-called ‘radical’ force is pouring scorn on the dyed-in-the-wool democrats – in particular, the middle-class, professional elites who, they believe, betray the working-class interest and entrench the advantages of the ruling class in cahoots with big businesses and their ilk holding powerful vested interests in the Chinese Mainland.

Edward Leung Alvin Yeung
Edward Leung of Hong Kong Indigenous and Alvin Yeung of the Civic Party, who were running in the February LegCo by-election. Photo: Stand News.

How did the pan-democrats foment this astounding popular fury, which metastasised into an attention-grabbing political force in Hong Kong? Is the ‘localist,’ ‘nativist’ political agenda really radical and creative? The independence tag just scratches the surface of a series of thorny issues in Hong Kong politics. In many ways, to the localists’ great chagrin, the policies or actions which renege on public interest but were once supported by the democrats goaded the seething mass into a revolt against the democrats themselves in the by-election earlier this year.

For example, the Civic Party is often castigated by both the pro-establishment camp (such as Regina Ip and the pro-business Liberal Party) and the localists for stoking the right of abode chaos of anchor babies in Hong Kong. Those councillors who sympathise with the Mainland immigrants in Hong Kong, including Cyd Ho Sau-lan, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung were often disparaged by the localists as traitors of Hong Kong who live in cloud-cuckoo land and are too detached from the grassroots.

Perhaps boiling everything down into immigration doesn’t do justice to the long-serving democrats in LegCo and is not a silver bullet to solve all our problems. The growing voice of localists, however, is a clarion call for a more serious discussion about important issues that we never touched on before, such as immigration policy, right of abode, privatisation of public assets and most of all, the ‘one country, two systems’ constitutional principle which many die-hard democrats such as Emily Lau and Ronny Tong once held sacrosanct on their lips.

Who is afraid of Edward Leung? I think the answer is obvious. I don’t think a senior career civil servant with a permanent position in the government is squeamish about the incendiary remarks made by a 25-year-old philosophy student. Leung’s slogan of Hong Kong independence is probably just some cannon fodder for media hype because compared with other social issues, it sounds rather sexy. Whichever way the independence wind blusters, the government’s decision to foil Leung’s nomination just shot itself in the foot and is just making a mountain out of a molehill.

Henry Kwok is a critical sociologist of education and policy studies. He used to work as a secondary school teacher and a senior lecturer in the School of Education and Languages at the Open University of Hong Kong. Although now residing in Australia where he is completing his PhD at Griffith University in Brisbane, he keeps a close eye on what is happening in Hong Kong. He graduated from the Universities of Hong Kong and Cambridge.