Wong is not fighting a lone battle. Early in November 2014, a group of netizens on the popular Golden Forum discussion site initiated a “2015 District Council” project to gather young people who are interested in contesting the polls. For each district, they have created Facebook and WhatsApp groups to exchange information and organised regular meetings to discuss their election campaigns.
Golden Forum netizen Kelvin Cheong Kok-man joined the Tung Chung District Council election support group after the Occupy Movement. Recently, he joined the campaign team and starting offering technical support to 21-year-old Sheep Wong Chun-yeung, who plans to stand in Tung Chung South.
Unlike Wong Sui-lung, Sheep Wong who works as a community development officer for the youth group, We are the Future Campaign, says he decided to stand because he is disappointed with the pan-democrats’ performance during the Occupy Movement. “Ever since that time when the pan-democrats asked us [the protesters] to retreat from Queensway, I have been utterly disappointed with all the pan-democratic parties,” says Wong. “They are like slaves and pessimists, giving in to everything as if they thought this servile method can really achieve something.”
The pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong has held the Tung Chung South seat for 17 years. To compete, Wong plans to set up booths starting from 6 a.m. every day and organise activities like home visits. He believes the only way to defeat the pro-establishment camp’s handouts strategy (蛇齋餅糉) is to be more diligent and develop a good relationship with residents. “If they remember your name and you become part of their discussion, you have a chance of winning,” says Wong.
Witnessing young people’s political awakening in the Occupy Movement, 29-year-old Edward Lau Wai-tak has recently founded YOU®+, a non-profit organisation which assists prospective candidates under age 30 with no political background and who support genuine democracy – like Wong Sui-lung and Sheep Wong Chun-yeung – to run for the district council elections.
Lau, who was a volunteer “defending” the barricades on the Occupy frontline, says he has raised HK$2 million through crowdfunding and can offer each candidate a maximum of HK$53,800. Apart from funds, the group can also provide assistance in the form of manpower, technical support and social connections. Lau says he will encourage young candidates not to compete with pan-democratic candidates but it will not be a requirement for support.
Lau is optimistic about the impact of the young people’s political participation. “Young people are innocent and idealistic. They are not bound by the responsibilities of work, therefore they can step forward,” says Lau. “At least they can change the atmosphere of the district council elections. More importantly, more people will vote in the elections.”
“We are also advocating young people to register as voters and [educating them] on the importance of the district council elections, hoping to motivate more people to vote. Only by doing this can we achieve democracy,” says Lau.
However, work as a district councillor can be more challenging than the young candidates might imagine. Veteran District Councillor Leung Yiu-chung has been serving Kwai Tsing district for 30 years. He agrees that maintaining a close relationship with residents is the key to winning the district council elections, but the situation is more complicated this time. His experience suggests that the Occupy Movement may be more of a hindrance than a help in the first large-scale election in the post-Occupy era.
“Recently when I visited the residents to help them install water savers, some of them told me that although they have been voting for me for many years, if I didn’t come that day, they wouldn’t vote for me again because I’m involved in the Occupy Movement,” Leung sighs.
Leung warns the young candidates to brace for the worst, and prepare for the possibility that they may be fighting a losing battle. Though it may seem nearly impossible to change people’s mindsets, he urges young people to persevere. “Running for district council elections is not like eating instant noodles. It takes time. And young people have a lot of time. Fail once, fail twice, fail thrice, it doesn’t matter. Treat it as an experience. Don’t just give up easily,” says Leung.