Secret Power: The people behind the next wave of Hong Kong politicos

Young people may be providing the passion driving the next wave of politics but more experienced hands are providing operational backup.

Photo: Hong Kong actor Gregory Wong Chung-yiu (from left) showing up in support of Anthony Cheong and Kevin Ko.


 

The localist world changes too fast for even political insiders to follow, with new groups with similar stances and even names popping up one after another. Behind these groups is the 80s Momentum (八十後浪), which has been providing the X factor to make sure that while these wolves may not run as one pack, they do not stand alone.

Similar to other localist organisations, The 80s Momentum (the group) is a byproduct of the Umbrella Movement, formed by young people who were frustrated by the ill-fated occupations of Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. Unlike the more prominent players such as Youngspiration and Hong Kong Indigenous, however, the group’s contribution to the localist family is more subtle, but no less significant.

Kevin Ko (高天暉) and Anthony Cheong (蔣忻霆), convenor and spokesperson of the group respectively, says the primary goal of the group is to assist the inexperienced, under-resourced localist/post-Umbrella amateurs to stand on their own feet, and to become a platform for them.

The duo built up their connections with both the radical and moderate sides of the pro-dem camp when participating in the Umbrella Movement in the Causeway Bay occupation site. “We stated clearly that we won’t run for elections. I think this is why our associates think we are a platform that can be trusted and will not be in conflicting interest with them.”

Power behind the mini-thrones

Political watchers might be surprised by the relative success of nascent localist groups during last year’s District Council election and the LegCo New Territories East by-election in February. Their victories were not products of luck, but rather the coordinated efforts of a network of supporters.

For the past year, the group  organised events to bring together the otherwise unconnected localists. Past activities included holding joint press conferences and workshops led by media and public relations and social movement veterans to equip the localists with necessary skills and knowledge to run in elections.

“While our associates focus on ideologies, we look into the operational side of the story,” Mr Ko says. “To form an organisation, you need to know how to open a bank account, host a press conference, deal with journalists and so on.”

“We welcome coordination with other groups as long as they work for a more democratic society. They can be localist groups, district-level bodies or advocacy groups that lack the necessary experience and network,” Mr Ko explains. “Right now, we are campaigning for voter registration for the LegCo election, as many aspirants among our associates lack the resources to campaign outside of their own community. We also held sessions for them to share their experience during the previous elections.”

Youngspiration, Hong Kong Indigenous and Kowloon East Community are among the beneficiaries of Ko and Cheong’s efforts. They also collaborated with Keyboard Frontline to protest against the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 and are planning to join hands again as legislators resume debates on the Interception of Communications and Surveillance (Amendment) Bill 2015.

No compromise

As crucial a player as it is, the 80s Momentum has not been directly involved in the localist/post-Umbrella groups’ electoral planning. “In fact, we know about the details of their plans no earlier than the public domain. What we do is that we look for ways to assist them after the plans are out,” Mr Ko says. “There is a consensus between us and our associates that we will not ask too much about their operations.”

When asked to comment on a general reluctance for the new groups to coordinate their election efforts, perhaps resulting in vote splitting  that could be to the advantage of the pro-establishment camp, Ko dismisses the “unfounded” remarks, saying that strategic voting is not an option for voters from the younger generation.

“Many of the groups’ supporters do not buy into the idea of strategic voting. So it may not be the groups that do not want to coordinate, but that the voters will turn against them if they choose to do so,” Mr Ko says. “Instead, getting more people to come out and vote works with our beliefs.”

“While the pan-dems may accuse us of splitting their votes, they fail to acknowledge that the impressive number of votes, for Alvin Yeung and Edward Leung combined in the by-election, was the result of the inclusion of the localist force. And people should learn that they themselves are the ones responsible for the results of elections, not other contending parties. That’s why coordination, in the sense of compromising with the pan-dems, is not our cup of tea.”

‘Unforgiving’

For Mr Ko and Mr Cheong, Hong Kong’s young political leaders remain short of their own vision that helps the public to distinguish themselves from the pan-dems.

“The pan-dems used to be on the receiving end, letting the Government play its own game. How can we as a new force challenge that situation? How can we bring about a new power relationship that is productive to Hong Kong’s democratic development? These questions need to be better addressed by the localists.” Mr Ko says, “Having said that, we should understand that leaders like Baggio Leung and Joshua Wong are only in their 20s. It is normal for them to make some mistakes and learn in the process. The sad thing is that our society is particularly unforgiving towards political figures.”

“Localism will become the issue for the upcoming LegCo elections as even the pro-establishment camp is starting to pick up the terms with their own interpretation,” Mr Cheong adds. “On our part, we are working to educate the public on the different faces of localism. We are coordinating with the Hong Kong University Students’ Union to hold a public forum with speakers representing different localist groups and school of thoughts.”

The rivals

Drawing inspiration from the recent TV show Travel with Rivals, HT asked each of the duo to name one person, their political opposite, with whom they would go on a trip with. They came up with two rather distinctive answers.

“I’d choose Regina Ip,” Mr Ko says. “She seems to embody [values] totally opposite to what I strive for.”

Mr Cheong, meanwhile, picks Emily Lau as his ‘rival’. “Where you stand depends on where you sit. I may have taken the same stance if was in Regina Ip’s position. Lau, meanwhile, is supposed to be a pro-democracy figure and yet she is detached from people of younger generation who also fight for democracy.”

“That’s why the two of us, as people born in the 80s, named our group the ‘Wave of the 80s [from behind]’ in Chinese. We want to gather a young force of the post-80s generation [those born after 1980] to challenge the traditional players, while taking one step back to focus on providing assistance to those who share our values.”

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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.
afharbourtimes
afharbourtimes 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.