Recently, controversy has erupted in Hong Kong, part of the upcoming Hong Kong Legislative Election. While Hong Kong remains a Special Administrative Region within the People’s Republic of China, many people, especially the youths do not see it so. Calls for autonomy, or even independence as advanced by so called “localist” politicians and parties, have called for such an envisioning of Hong Kong’s future. Outspoken political leader of the Localist Movement, Edward Leung, speaks of Hong Kong as a “utopian metropolis of skyscrapers and social justice, where people can do whatever they want as long as it isn’t harmful to others”, clearing highlighting the lightening of Hong Kong’s burden under the weight of political pressure and influence from China.
As seen in the past 2014 Umbrella Protests, and other arguments between students and the local SAR estbalishment, divergent views of Hong Kong’s future have already embedded itself in the political fabric of the city, burrowing ever deeper as the two sides, one pro-establishment and one pro-autonomy, try to take as much ground as possible. As seen in the Mong Kok Fishball Riots and the recent pro-independence rally in early August, the middle ground between the two sides have increasingly eroded away as polarization of the two sides have increased. As seen in the nationalist tabloid, The Global Times, it described the pro-independence people as a “farce”, putting blame on such localists for inciting political instability in the city. However, as Leung and other candidates were barred from running in the election due to the reason that they did not support Hong Kong’s Basic Law even after signing a document stating their support that Hong Kong is an “inseperable part” of China, it clearly provided a context and perhaps subtle evidence of political screening and manipulation. This was further supported by the fact that 42 other pan-democrat were approved for the election, despite refusing to sign the declaration.
In many people’s eyes, the situation can be very much framed as a “David versus Goliath” situation, where Hong Kong’s localists face a seemingly unsurmountable opponent. With deteriorating freedom of speech and democratic political practices, it can seem that such localists, which vow to protect Hong Kong’s status quo in terms of such values, are being forced into a corner and thus forced to lash back in fear of losing everything. However, the establishment sees otherwise, seeing the localists as obstacles against Hong Kong’s inevitable changing landscape, blocking Hong Kong’s increasing transition into the post-Basic Law era. Citing the need to increasingly link the Mainland and Hong Kong, whether through transportation or education, the view that Hong Kong should become less “Special” and localist in terms of its status as an Special Administrative Regionis a clear goal, although the degree to which remains unclear.
While the outcome of the election is still very much up in the air, it is clear that the Localists and their ideas will be making an impact as such demands and plans for greater autonomy and accountability on the government have been reflected in the youth. With nearly 40% of 15-24 year olds polled in a local survey described themselves as supporting Hong Kong’s splitting from China as compared to 17% of the overall group of citizens polled, it clearly demonstrates and emphasized the youths dissatisfaction with the changes in their city. Even though “Localists” have suffered a major setback as many of their candidates were barred from the election, the ideas and values that they push forward still remain. As student groups in the past, such as Scholarism, have already demonstrated the power of mobilized student and youth groups in organizing large scale movements, the possibility for future and current political “localist” groups to re-emerge on the political scene remains large.
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