Political parties look to young guns
by Howard Kwong
Political parties in Hong Kong are active in recruiting and nurturing fresh blood as the public demands more say in local affairs despite the government's stalling on full democracy.
With the approach of the District Council election, parties are also considering to encourage more young members to run in the polls next year.
However, not many young people are willing to go into the territory's politics, citing worries over prospects and pay.
To win them over, the parties have organised various activities and training to show the young people the opportunities that lie ahead of them.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) has launched a promotional campaign in video broadcasting on buses, street banners and MTR advertisements to attract young people to join the largest pro-Beijing party. It has other programmes, such as a summer internship in mainland China , to gain university students' support.
The membership of Young DAB, the party's youth branch for those aged under 35, has increased to 500 from 180 in less than two years. The new members include professionals like accountants, engineers and lawyers.
The Democratic Party has its own youth campaigns, such as concerts and internships in the o ffices of lawmakers.
The business-oriented Liberal Party has been organising debating contests at both university and secondary school levels since 2004 to approach students, whereas the newly established Civic Party is planning to encourage more young people to join its activities, such as taking part in the work of its Radio 45 and A45 newspaper.
Thomas Yu Kwun-wai, a 23-year-old executive committee member of the Civic Party, said recognition of the party's value was essential. ¡§I believe the value of the rule of law and democracy advocated by the Civic Party. That's why I joined the party,¡¨ he said.
Democrat Gary Fan Kwok-wai said his party had to convince teenagers with its values rather than activities. ¡§We always tell teenagers to think twice before joining political parties. Since it is not just a ¡¥job', you need to contribute a lot in a party, such as time and effort,¡¨ said Mr Fan, a central committee member of the Democratic Party.
That whether a party can provide learning opportunities and political experience is a concern of the young blood.
On training, the Democratic Party provides a 20-lesson mentorship programme for members to learn basic theories on politics and public administration, for example. Participants can also acquire practical skills, such as the ways to build up social networks, handle problems for residents and voice out social issues to the government.
¡§Only political parties, not other non-governmental organisations, can provide this opportunity for young people to experience activities on social and district affairs,¡¨ Mr Fan said.
Angel Wong Suet-ying, a 26-year-old Kwai Tsing district councillor with the Democratic Party, said the training helped her get well prepared for running in the District Council election. She started her training when she was 19.
The DAB, meanwhile, has implemented similar programmes. Last year, there was a project called ¡§the Deputy Spokesman Scheme¡¨. Two young party members were assigned to work under a lawmaker and to observe the operations of the Legislative Council. They also worked as deputy spokespersons for their mentors in relevant areas like housing and transport.
¡§These young people can have more media exposure,¡¨ DAB vice-chairman and legislator Lau Kong-wah said. ¡§They can learn how to deal with the media and the public. Gary Chan Hak-kan, a special assistant of the chief executive, was my former deputy spokesman.¡¨
Mr Lau said his party would provide the resources and opportunities for junior members but they still had to work hard to grasp the chances. ¡§Teenagers are the future of our party,¡¨ he said.
To train more candidates, including young members, to stand for the 2007 District Council polls, the Liberal Party has organised related training programmes on district work, which include sharing of experience by incumbent district councillors, public and media relations, and opinion polling in districts.
¡§Although our party's main target is the middle class, we still hope to train more young talents to serve the community,¡¨ lawmaker Howard Young from the Liberal Party said.
Alan Leong Kah-kit, legislator of Civic Party, said his party would set up an ¡§ Institute of Public Services ¡¨ to provide training courses for young members. The party has invited Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, president of Lingnan University , to teach in the programme.
Participating in elections is a direct way to put the knowledge and skills that members of political parties have acquired into practice and a report card on their work. The four major parties have supported young candidates to stand for the elections of the Legislative Council and the District Councils, which are held once every four years.
Young DAB head Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, said: ¡§The most effective way to train young people is to let them take part in elections.¡¨ The DAB had at least one young member on every of its candidate lists of the five geographical constituencies in the 2004 Legislative Council polls.
Mr Cheung, 31, took part in the elections of the District Councils and the Legislative Council in 2003 and 2004 respectively. ¡§Although I lost in both elections, they were good learning e xperience for me to find out what real politics and elections were,¡¨ he said.
The Democratic Party has 39 district councillors who are aged under 40, almost 40 per cent of its total candidates in the district election in 2003. The party is planning to back more young members to participate in the 2007 polls.
The Liberal Party expects to field 20 per cent of its 80 candidates with people aged under 40 y ears in the coming district election, according to Mr Young.
The Civic Party also indicated that it would encourage young members to take part in the polls.
However, the participation of young people in elections is not as easy as what the political parties have promised, said Wilson Wong Wai-ho, an associate professor of government and public administration studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong .
¡§Some experienced party leaders are unwilling to step aside, so some young party members do not have the chance to be candidates and then they cannot realise their potential fully,¡¨ Dr Wong said.
¡§Political life is short and unstable,¡¨ he said. ¡§Going into the political field is like buying Mark Six lottery. The chance to lose is much bigger than that to win. That's why local politicians usually have a full-time job to secure themselves.¡¨
He said some young people who understood the disadvantages of joining political parties were still willing to take the plunge. ¡§I think they have shown great dedication to society.¡¨
¡§But they should not be too naive. They should think twice over the difficulties and prospects before joining political parties,¡¨ he said.
Wong Nga-lan, a 19-year-old government and public administration student at the Chinese University , said she hoped to work in the area of public administration, but she would not join any political party since the work in political parties was not rewarding.
Another student Shum Tak-sheung said she had no plan to join a party because the future of the local political environment was ¡§not bright¡¨.
Many university graduates want to work at a company rather than in political circles like becoming a lawmaker's assistant because a corporate career will be more stable and financially rewarding, she said.
For those young people who are interested to go into politics, they may choose to do voluntary work for political parties while having a full-time job like Mr Cheung.
¡§I am not completely confident in local politics, so I am not willing to give up my work at the law firm. I need to have a stable income to take care of my family,¡¨ the Young DAB head said.
Still, he said politics was like magic. ¡§When you are addicted to it, you will have lots of satisfaction.¡¨ It will be worthwhile when the people acknowledge one's contribution to society, he said.