If you have enjoyed the incessant bickering, rabid anti-mainland rhetoric and nasty ad hominem attacks characterising Hong Kong politics for the past four years, then the next four should bring you even greater pleasure.

Sunday’s Legislative Council election results pretty much guarantee that the city’s political circus will continue, albeit with some new, much younger and potentially even more divisive acts.

Voters line up to cast their ballots. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

It turns out that predictions of the death of the pan-democrats’ veto power were greatly exaggerated, but this election did sound taps for some long-standing moderates in the camp and give way to a younger, brasher and more radical group. Say goodbye to Labour Party Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan, Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood founder Frederick Fung Kin-kee and other pan-dems who flirted with the notion of compromise. And say hello to the likes of former Occupy leader Nathan Law Kwun-chung (just 23 years old!) and Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang, two committed localists who will most assuredly make a LegCo career of confronting rather than cooperating with Hong Kong government officials and their overseers in Beijing.

Also say goodbye to “Mad Dog” Wong Yuk-man, who began his eight years as a legislator by throwing bananas at then Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and ended it on trial for assault for hurling a glass at the city’s current leader, Leung Chun-ying. Wong also became a maddening practitioner of the filibuster, frustrating the government’s legislative initiatives at every opportunity.

Wong Yuk-man campaigning for Leung Tin-kei. Photo: InMedia.

But Wong’s ouster does not really mark a loss for radicals as it is more than compensated for by the six newly elected councillors—two of them, Youngspiration’s Yau and Polytechnic University lecturer Lau Siu-lai, serving to cannibalise Wong’s candidacy in Kowloon West—who embrace self-determination or outright independence from China for Hong Kong. Remarkably, localist candidates garnered nearly 20 percent of all votes cast in Sunday’s elections.

The increasing radicalisation of the pan-dems promises a lot of trouble for whoever is chosen as the city’s next chief executive in the Beijing-controlled small-circle election to be held in March and, unfortunately for the people of Hong Kong, continued stalemate between the legislative and executive branches of the city’s government.

The most important lesson of the latest round of LegCo elections is that the formula for Hong Kong governance—part democracy, part authoritarian control—is going nowhere. Nearly 20 years after the city’s handover from British to Chinese sovereignty, it has never been so fractured and bitterly divided.

Photo: StandNews.

The system is rigged with largely Beijing-friendly functional constituencies and an election committee for the office of chief executive that also takes its cues from the central government. These elements assure that the Chinese leadership keeps its grip on Hong Kong’s political and economic development.

At the same time, however, our LegCo democracy by half (only 35 of the council’s 70 members are directly elected by the people) has thrown up a hostile opposition to just about everything the government proposes that has now morphed into a localist movement pushing for greater autonomy and even independence.

In reaction to the new radicalism, the hardline taken by both the central government and the chief executive’s office has proven completely counterproductive—with, it seems, every ill-conceived anti-independence edict producing more independence advocates. How else to explain the electoral triumphs of six new lawmakers who in the coming four years will be doing their level best to make life hell for the next chief executive?

If the current political system continues without substantive change, it is daunting to consider what the 2020 LegCo polls may produce.

Occupy Central and the Mong Kok riot may start to look like the good old days when Hong Kong was at relative peace. Too many of Hong Kong’s younger generation are angry because they feel their futures are being compromised by local leaders who put approval from their superiors in Beijing above their duty to serve the people of Hong Kong.

Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Their numbers are increasing and, as Sunday’s vote demonstrates, they are not going to back down—that is, unless they are forced to do so, and no one who loves Hong Kong and supports its future as a free-thinking Asian financial hub wants to see that happen. Indeed, such a crackdown would be the end of Hong Kong as we know it.

Sunday’s elections give the pan-dems new life and continuing veto power in Hong Kong’s mini-parliament, but they will also bring more conflict, acrimony and perhaps violence as the city’s political future unfolds.

Most Hong Kong people don’t support independence and abhor violence; indeed, they don’t want any trouble at all. They just want to go about their business with confidence that the “one country, two systems” handover blueprint is still being honoured.

With city leaders that have turned into little more than apparatchiks of the central government, however, that confidence has been broken, and the spawn of that distrust will soon be sitting in the LegCo chamber.


Kent Ewing

Kent Ewing is a teacher and writer who has lived in Hong Kong for more than two decades. He has written for the pre-Alibaba South China Morning Post, The Standard, Asia Times and Asia Sentinel. Allegations to the contrary, he insists he is not a colonial fossil. Follow him on Twitter.