When the people of Hong Kong went to the polls on the 4th of September, the stakes were high. Forty seats at the legislative council, or Legco, were up for grabs and the race leading up to the election had been fierce.
The Beijing-loyalists and the so called pan-democrats have formed the political dichotomy in Hong Kong for almost two decades. But in these elections there were new kids on the block. Literally.
When the polls closed, six fresh faces were selected to Legco. One of those selected was Nathan Law, 23, a law student, who was one of the leaders of the 2014 Umbrella movement. He became the youngest person to win a seat in the legislative council in Hong Kong`s history.
”I think it is a miracle. This is absolutely unexpected — nobody imagined that this would happen”, Law said to the Guardian after the results were in. He had received more than 50 000 votes.
The legislative council is the law-making body of Hong Kong. In addition to its law-making responsibilities, it debates issues of public interest, examines and approves budgets and debates the chief executive`s policy addresses.
The chief executive is the leader of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, who is responsible of implementing the constitution, signing bills and budgets and issuing executive orders. To all intents and purposes, the office-holder has to be approved by the Communist Party in Beijing.
The current chief executive Leung Chung-ying´s tenure has been marked with numerous clashes with the pro-democratic opposition. The next elections for the position are due in 2017.
The Umbrella movement was an occupation of the Hong Kong`s financial district that lasted for 79 days and drew more than 100 000 people to the streets. The demonstrators demanded a universal suffrage from Beijing and other pro-democratic reforms.
Eventually, the occupy movement failed, but it succeeded in raising awareness, which became clear when the first elections after the movement took place in September.
Nevertheless, the loyalists still hold forty seats in Legco.
The six newly selected members of the legislative council won largely at the expense of the pan-democratic parties. Many student activists consider the old establishment to be too passive and set in their ways. The new wave of politicians want to change the system and they want to do it rather sooner than later.
Lai Tsz Lok, 21, and Cheuk Lai Ying, 20, were both active in the Umbrella movement. Lok, who is studying education at the University of Jyväskylä, thinks that Hong Kong should seek more autonomy from China.
”China has power over us. In my opinion, Hong Kong is more developed both culturally and economically. I think that China is dragging us down. That`s why we need more independence.”
Cheuk Lai Ying is studying biology in Jyväskylä. She also feels that Hong Kong should stand on its own.
”I think the election result was a good thing. The older generation have been in power for long enough. The generation gap has been big”, she sais.
A senior researcher Jyrki Kallio from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs has followed the situation in Hong Kong closely.
”The younger generations, who don`t remember the time under the British rule, consider themselves Hongkongers. In other words, they identify with Hong Kong much stronger than with China”, Kallio explains.
In the past, the pan-democrats have been moderates. The new opposition is more idealistic and reformist.
”The Umbrella movement was very fragmented. Two years ago, the moderates felt that the protesters caused too much strife between Hong Kong and China.”
Jari Sinkari, the Consul-General of Finland in Hong Kong and Macao, reminds that the dichotomy between the loyalists and the pan-democrats has always been a part of the political landscape in Hong Kong.
”After the British rule, which ended in 1997 and when the Basic Law came in effect, the consensus has been that it anchors the ”one country two systems” principle. Pan-democrats have voiced concern over the growing influence of Beijing, but felt that the founding document is the basis of all politics. The newly emerged localists feel that Hong Kong should strive towards more autonomy from Beijing”, Sinkari says.
In addition to politics, people in Hong Kong are also frustrated with the sluggish economy and the expensive housing market.
”The economic inequality is considered a big problem. Also, the housing prices are among the highest in the world. This irritates people”, Sinkari explains.
Overall, Sinkari feels that the Legco should be a platform for constructive dialogue.
”The parliament is the best place to discuss differences and try to find common ground. As a middle-aged diplomat I feel that it is definitely better to have the dialogue in Legco than in the streets. It`s interesting to see what happens.”
The Umbrella movement was the dawn of a new political generation. Now this generation is taking its first steps into adulthood.
The future of Hong Kong is unclear. But one thing is for certain. The newcomers want their voices heard and they want to have a saying in the future of Hong Kong.
- Hong Kong is not an independent country. It`s a Special Administrative Region of the People`s Republic of China.
- After the British rule that lasted from 1842 to 1997, China assumed sovereignty under the ”one country, two systems” principle.
- Hong Kong`s constitutional document, the Basic Law, guarantees autonomy for 50 years.
- Population: 7,24 million in 2014.
- Hong Kong is the 8th largest trading economy in the world and the mainland of China is its most significant trade partner.
- Hong Kong´s official languages are Chinese and English.
- Sources: the government of Hong Kong SAR. Consulate General of Finland, Hong Kong and Macao.