By District Councillor Timothy Lee
In July, a high voter turnout in the democratic primary for legislative elections surprised everyone. There seemed to be hopes of reform from within the system, but all such hope ended when the Legislative Council election was postponed for at least a year and China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee later decided to oust four moderate pan-democratic lawmakers.
Just half a year later, all indicators show every future election in Hong Kong will be nothing more than a rigged vote where the most vocal opposition will be barred from running. It is more than obvious that pro-democracy politicians must now seek alternative extra-institutional paths in the struggle for democracy.
On the eve of the introduction of the National Security Law, the historic joint meeting of 17 District Councils was held on June 6, at which the councils passed a joint resolution against the draconian legislation. At the meeting, several councils passed a resolution to mandate the establishment of a deliberative platform constituted of elected councillors.
In November, representatives from different district councils and across factions in the pro-democracy camp formed a preparatory committee for such a platform, aiming to launch it in early 2021.
After 15 pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse as a response to the Chinese authorities’ decision to disqualify their peers, the pro-democracy camp will be severely underrepresented, if not outright unrepresented, in the legislature for an extended period of time, especially when we consider the likelihood of future rigged elections.
With the national security law in force, and Chinese national security agents stationed in plain sight for the first time in Hong Kong history, our city’s future seems dim. The arrest of prominent activists, outspoken politicians and even media management on a daily basis creates a general terror among the Hong Kong people.
Under these dire circumstances, the politicians of the time must step up and assume the role of lighting up our path forward – even when the struggle within the institution comes to an unfortunate end, we must keep seeking alternative routes towards a genuinely free and democratic society.
In the meantime, many are paying a tremendous price for keeping the resistance alive, while some are forced to leave the homeland they love. We now have no choice but to put aside our short-term interests and subtle differences in ideology. While the Legislative Council has become a People’s Congress-style legislature dominated by the pro-Beijing puppets after the pan-democrats’ en masse departure, and elected district councils now face intensifying suppression from the government, this parallel platform we propose will serve as an alternative arena for elected representatives to bring important matters into public discussion.
According to the current plan, the platform will adopt formal parliamentary procedures and operate in a two-tier structure, with one city-wide and five regional assemblies. The future platform will become an alternative deliberative assembly which will be truly representative of the citizenry at both city-wide and regional levels.
On the other hand, the platform will also become an umbrella group of democratic representatives across political factions, allowing exchanges of ideas, information and resources. With the help of crowdsourcing and utilisation of district councillors’ networks, the platform’s resolutions will not be mere empty talk but can be carried out collectively with the efforts of private citizens.
And even though some of us may be ousted from our district council seats in the future, our status as elected representatives, as well as the mandate conferred upon us, will not vanish, especially when there is a parallel platform on our side.
No one knows whether the platform will be a last ditch attempt before Hong Kong’s opposition movement dies out or is forced to completely go underground, or whether it will make history like the Polish trade union Solidarity did some 40 years ago. But now we are at a crossroads in the course of history. We must never give up the mandates entrusted to us, even without positions inside the system.
Timothy Lee is a member of The Kowloon City District Council and former candidate of the postponed Legislative Council election.