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District Councilers to take the oath |Glacier Kwong

District Councillors have to make a decision if they will swear an oath of allegiance to the city and vow to uphold the Basic Law. The government has developed a list of criteria for determining whether a public officer obeys or violates the oath, those who are deemed in breach of it will be disqualified and barred from standing in the relevant elections for 5 years.

Some may say that not taking the oath means giving up the victory we scored in 2019, while others may say taking it amounts to kowtowing to Beijing and giving up our freedom of speech. I am quite puzzled by this kind of framing, because the issue is not simply about kowtowing or not, but how we understand the relationship between the movement and electoral politics.

Since 2019, District Council elections, or electoral politics in a broad sense, have not been the objective of the movement anymore. For the first time, the democratic movement in Hong Kong has broken through the pattern of social movements that serves electoral politics. Hongkongers successfully turned electoral politics into a means of serving the movement. A lot of District Councillors who hope to serve the community and the movement in their terms to facilitate the progress of the democratic movement are serving as tools of the movement.

By this token, whether District Councillors should pledge their allegiance to the Hong Kong government needs to be considered in the context of the movement.

With the implementation of the National Security Law, the latest electoral reform, and the unprecedented suppression of social space, the space for political advocacy is smaller than ever. The current struggle becomes a question of how we maintain the community of the Hong Kong people so as to reorganize the relationship between the people and the government for change to possibly take place.

During the pandemic, the community of Hong Kong gave a perfect example of self-help. There are two studies done recently: one documenting the number of masks distributed by Yellow and Blue District Council members at the beginning finds that masks were distributed more frequently and in greater numbers in the Yellow District; the other comparing Hong Kong with Singapore finds that “Hong Kong’s civil society is self-help”. For one thing, this reflects a deep distrust of the government, hence Hong Kong people relying on themselves and each other; for another, it reflects that the Hong Kong community or civil society as a whole can operate effectively with less reliance on the government.

If we can promote such “community self-help” and change the relationship between the community and the government, we can reduce the government’s influence in the community, and preserve the civil society, so that change would be possible in the future.

Changing the relationship between the community and the government is what the District Councillors are very successful in. Last month, I watched an interview in which it is said that some residents in Tuen Mun would organize their own community activities, and have revived the neighborhood spirit of Hong Kong people in the ’80s — if you didn’t cook, come and eat at my place; if you have no onion, come and grab one from my kitchen. And to my surprise, the District Councillor is the one who is invited to dinner instead of the one who organizes the activities. Not a resident of the district, I don’t know how much effort the councillor puts into it to make it happen, but this is a model that is extremely ideal.

When a community does not need to rely on the government, and does not need statutory bodies to intervene in its affairs, it can meet the objective of the current struggle.

If we look at it from the perspective of changing the relationship between the community and the government, some communities may still need statutory District Council members to intervene with the public power in certain community issues such as noise, illegal parking, illegal dumping, community resources allocation, etc. so as to achieve the goal of community self-help. In this case there is a need for the District Council member to take the oath to stay in office to facilitate that. But if the community has successfully achieved self-help, then chances are the District Council members would not necessarily take the oath.

Other than examining the issue simply from the perspective of ‘kowtowing or not’, community self-help can be one of the factors to consider — it is up to the people in a district to decide how far the community will go in terms of reorganization of their relationship with the government.

(Glacier Kwong, born and raised in Hong Kong, became a digital rights and political activist at the age of 15. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Law and working on the course for Hong Kong in Germany. Her work has been published on Washington Post, TIME, etc.)

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