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Interview: ‘King of Votes’ Eddie Chu says it’s time for a real Hong Kong democratic movement

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Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick is known as the “King of Votes” after he captured 84,121 votes in September’s Legislative Council election – more than any other candidate. But Chu does not exactly support Hong Kong’s democracy movement, at least not its current form.

“Our democratic movement in the past was not a democratic movement. It was only a movement fighting for our voting rights through universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council. We never entered a state of a democratic movement,” he said.

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Eddie Chu Hoi-dick. Photo: Maggie Tan/HKFP.

“Before the Umbrella Movement, the legislature was running on its own logic of party politics – they did not pay much attention to how the energy pushing the democratic movement forward was formed.”

Chu became known to the public after he played a major role in the campaign to preserve the Central Star Ferry Pier in 2006, the Queen’s Pier campaign in 2007 and the anti-Express Rail Link protests of 2010. Each of the campaigns eventually failed.

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A younger Chu Hoi Dick (centre) after a court gave the go-ahead for the demolition of the Queen’s Pier in 2007. File photo: AFP/Samantha Sin.

He then ran for a district council seat in Yuen Long – twice – pushing for sustainability in rural areas. Both failed, but it wasn’t a complete loss. He saw a significant growth in the number of votes during his LegCo election campaign, which he ran under the banner of “democratic self-determination.”

The problem with previous movements, he said, was that they failed to install fundamental democratic concepts into people’s minds. The idea that people are the sovereign, and that they should have the power to determine the city’s future with lawmakers who are actually allowed to make laws on issues such as public finance.

“Our predecessors in the democratic movement may have thought that narrowing the scope of the problem to a very small field may help with spreading or moving more people to join. It is indeed easy to understand, that we follow the timetable in the Basic Law asking for universal suffrage in 2007/2008, 2012, 2016/2017,” he said.

“But its shortcoming is very obvious… it did not ask us to question the legitimacy of the Basic Law, our constitutional document.”

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Eddie Chu Hoi-dick. Photo: Maggie Tan/HKFP.

For instance, Chu said, the Basic Law did state that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has the right to interpret the de facto constitution. People are unlikely to win an argument suggesting that China cannot do so.

“It’s like building something on quicksand, and this quicksand is the Basic Law – beneath the Basic Law there could be a hand to pull you down at any time or shake the building. So-called traditions like the rule of law are basically things that can be dismissed at any time,” he said.

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Lawyers silently march in protest of the Basic Law interpretation. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“The design of the Basic Law is to serve the capitalist system, Hong Kong’s function to Beijing was to help Beijing enter the world’s economic system – so that China could launch its reform mission the 1980’s. The Basic Law, The Joint Declaration were written in this background, therefore the Basic Law is a disposable thing.”

Chu said Hong Kong people’s “colonial mentality” meant they wished to freeze the situation the city had in the 1980’s. The so-called “horse races go on and night clubs stay open” – it was a legitimate mindset but it was also “very naive.”

“From a wider perspective, Hong Kong is doomed. Hong Kong’s functions, set by Beijing, are finished. Now we realise we are in this situation,” he said. He added that, as it is not possible to change Beijing’s way of ruling the city, Hongkongers might as well launch their own movements in an effort to reclaim power.

A bazaar Eddie Chu hosted at Yat Tung Estate in Tung Chung. Photo: Facebook.

A bazaar Eddie Chu hosted at Yat Tung Estate in Tung Chung. Photo: Facebook.

In Chu’s mind, it is time for a real democratic movement. One experiment was an attempt to crowdfund HK$400 million to repurchase a public housing estate shopping mall from the Link Real Estate Investment Trust.

“Let us determine how to use the space of an estate together – it is in fact part of a democratic movement,” he said. “If you don’t even have a mentality that I own the place I live in, I own the estate I live on, I own this piece of land, then this democratic movement has no foundation.”

Some consider Chu to be one of the earliest localists, but he resists efforts to exclude new immigrants from Hong Kong’s democratic movement, or have them pass tests to become Hongkongers.

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A bazaar Eddie Chu hosted at Yat Tung Estate in Tung Chung. Photo: Facebook.

An example he raised was campaigning at the Yat Tung Estate in Tung Chung, where many new immigrants and ethnic minorities live. Chu hosted bazaars outside the estate’s public markets in protest of Link’s controversial market policies. He was once arrested and charged for obstruction, but he was eventually freed.

“It must be easier for people living in Yat Tung Estate than the general public to understand what democracy is – they have to go to Tsuen Wan to buy food, they would understand,” he said. “Pakistanis, Indians, Africans, new immigrants and homegrown Hong Kong people – they will form a community.”

“I am sure a new immigrant would support democracy, after fighting with Yat Tung Estate residents for the ownership of the market, that the market should not be privatised,” he added.

Instead of solely following individual cases or complaints from residents, democrats should politicise communities, help people feel some ownership of their own communities, rather than accusing certain people of not supporting democracy, Chu said.

“The real answer for democratic movement always lies within us – it is not about someone else stealing the momentum of a democratic movement from us,” he said.

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One of Eddie Chu’s bicycle campaigns in Tuen Mun during the Legislative Council election. Photo: Facebook.

An advantage he has is that he is representing the huge constituency of New Territories West, and therefore he can link up with different campaigners in places like Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai, or Kwai Tsing, and they can interact with each other, Chu said.

But his “localism” does not stop at local communities. In Chu’s view, he sees global warming as a great threat to the city and the world. He has urged people to engage on the issue of nuclear plants across Guangdong Province, and has voiced concern about electronic waste in Hong Kong.

“Maybe my Facebook timeline is a bit different. It’s filled with air strikes in Aleppo, the ice melting in the North Pole… I don’t know why my timeline is so international, but you cannot ignore them,” he said. “Unless you are fooling yourself, you would understand that no problem is a local issue – anything can lead us to issues facing the whole world.”

Video: Maggie Tan.

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Interview: 'King of Votes' Eddie Chu says it’s time for a real Hong Kong democratic movement