Detained, but not out: ‘Localist’ by-election candidate Edward Leung refuses to embrace ‘defeatism’

Even after his arrest, Edward Leung is still in the running for LegCo. But he claims street-level activism is the frontline that will ground for Hong Kong.


 

Edward Leung Tin-kei (梁天琦) will earn his place in Hong Kong history as the first localist to emerge from the Umbrella Movement to run in the city’s legislative election. But regardless of the result, the Hong Kong Indigenous (HKI) spokesperson already made his name to the wider public as one of those prosecuted in wake of the Mong Kok riot, aka Fishball Revolution.

Leung’s decision to join the LegCo contest surprised many political speculators. Unlike Youngspiration, a localist group founded to seek public office, HKI’s focus has been on street politics and, to a considerable extent, violent struggle.

“We want to gain more experiences in running in a LegCo election so as to prepare for the big one in September,” Leung says. “We will plan for that in accordance to the result of this coming by-election.”

Given that Leung now has the whole localist camp behind him, he may have a genuine chance of winning it all against the odds of DAB’s Holden Chow (周浩鼎), Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung (楊岳橋) and four other candidates.

But for Leung, getting into the LegCo is only part of a grand strategy to continue social activism and will imply no compromise to join mainstream politics.

“Many people see localism as an issue-oriented ideology. My understanding, however, is that it can be interpreted in a macro perspective, spanning all aspects of everyday life from political, economic to cultural matters. It is a form of identity politics and hence should not be confined by one or a few specific topics like parallel trading,” Leung explains.

“In order to achieve [broad aims], you can’t simply rely on street politics and should bring the culture of resistance (抗爭文化) into the LegCo, like what Wong Yuk-man (黃毓民) is doing right now but more substantial,” Leung says. He believes that garnering broader support as a lawmaker can then feed back to mass movements, hence creating a sustainable force. “The two [mass/street politics and parliamentary politics] should complement each other.”

Nonetheless, from a third person’s point of view, Leung and his compatriots may be falling into a wishful thinking that they can either win it all or attract a significant vote count and still see Alvin Yeung win. He admits that the worst scenario would be if Mr Yeung loses to a pro-establishment candidate, say Holden Chow, by a small margin. In that case, much of the blame will likely be put on the ‘vote-splitting’ localists to an extent that will adversely affect their future election planning.

“But there is always a risk, and we want to give people an alternative, another hope,” Leung says. “The pan-dems have been failing Hong Kong people’s aspiration for democracy for so long and yet they still refuse to acknowledge that the moderate and non-violent path is not going to take them anywhere.”

“I see that as another kind of defeatism, and I’m not going to replicate that,” he says, stating that the group will not join an initiative moved by Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (戴耀庭) to coordinate election efforts among pro-democracy parties.

If anything is proving Leung’s commitment to this belief, it is the riot. He was among those detained in the Mong Kok Police Station for 48 hours and charged with participating in the riot, and could lose his candidacy if he is subsequently convicted and sentenced to imprisonment of three months or more.

When asked if his election campaign had been severely hindered, Leung says he is still digesting the event.

“We’re still estimating the impact [on the election campaign],” Leung recalls. “That being said, it is not exactly my main concern as my priority lies with mass movements after all.”

Commenting on the riot, Leung says the wider public and mainstream politicians are still struggling to catch up with the how fast street politics evolves. Their lack of understanding what happens on street lead them to conspiracy theories that HKI plotted the whole riot.

“If you look at cases of confrontation between police and civilians in other countries, you won’t be so surprised by the outcome [of the incident]. The fact that there are so many conspiracy theories just proved how pathetic these people are.” Leung explains, “We didn’t prepare nor plan for it. However, we [localists] have long been promoting a theory in which activists would deploy violent tactics to test the law enforcement agencies’ limits (暴力邊緣論) and to wait for them to make the wrong move. So you can say that we already expected a violent event like the recent one to erupt at some point against an administration that likes to pick a fight with its own people.”

“If I am judged guilty, then it [losing the candidacy] is a certainty as the minimum punishment is likely to be five years of imprisonment. During the 48 hours I was already prepared to spend the next few years in jail,” he says.

“But so far the election campaign goes on, and I don’t feel that people are treating me differently since the event.” instead, the public has been supportive on the street and via donations to fund their legal defence.

He hasn’t been confronted while on the campaign trail since Monday night. “Perhaps those who dislike me are scared I might throw bricks at them.”
Edward Leung is running for the LegCo New Territories East by-election. Other candidates include Holden Chow, Alvin Yeung, Christine Fong (方國珊), Nelson Wong (黃成智), Lau Chi-shing (劉志成) and Albert Leung (梁思豪).

the author

Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong's daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master's degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society's magazine - PASSTIMES.