Since thousands of Hong Kong students blocked city streets two years ago to protest a restrictive plan for promised elections, the government’s response to democratic demands hasn’t wavered: Put aside the political fights, enjoy being part of China, prosper together. That take-or-leave-it approach to managing Hong Kong will be put to the test Sunday, with almost 4 million voters eligible to choose 70 members of the former British colony’s Legislative Council. The once-in-four-year election has drawn almost 300 candidates as a new crop of more radical activists seek a platform to challenge Beijing and others urge a more accommodating approach to bridge widening political divides.
A strong showing by a handful of so-called “localist” contenders associated with advocacy for self-determination or even independence from China risks reviving tensions that spurred the failed “Occupy” protests in 2014. The results may also impact the future of unpopular Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying — a target of criticism from a loose coalition of candidates — before a panel of 1,200 political insiders meets in March to select a leader for the next five years.
“There are Hong Kong people totally frustrated and they see the situation as one where moderate approaches don’t work,” said Michael Davis, a former law professor who taught at city universities from 1985 until retiring this year. “There is simply a radicalization of Hong Kong politics very much caused by the behavior of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.”