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劉廼強 | 12th Jan 2010 | SCMP | (23 Reads)

Since the riots of 1967, Hong Kong has enjoyed more than four decades of peaceful demonstrations that have become one of our proud traditions. Yet, from what we have witnessed of late, this tradition has now been broken.

I am not talking about the skirmishes between protesters and the police that took place in front of the central government's liaison office on New Year's Day. This was only a glimpse of what is to come.

Looking back, when a small group of protesters occupied the old Star Ferry Pier before its demolition, little did they - or the rest of us - know that they had started a new wave in Hong Kong's social movement with new demands and forms of expression.

Our opportunistic politicians first tried to co-opt them, but they failed - until the League of Social Democrats came into being two years ago. When Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung, the icon of radicalism, allied himself with Wong Yuk-man, the tactician and eloquent speaker, they attracted angry youths to their realm. Despite their radical rhetoric, they are not that revolutionary and have only used some Taiwanese-style theatrics in the legislature. Such performances, however, were new to Hong Kong and their novelty appealed to angry youths when posted on YouTube.

A sizeable group of youths has gravitated towards the league, which has run classes to train them how to organise demonstrations and handle police intervention. And their young followers like it.

Last year, most of the major rallies did not end peacefully. Invariably, some young protesters refused to disband and had to be dragged away by the police. To Leung, this is a welcome development, but Wong, who is carrying a political party on his shoulders, has been seen time and again trying to persuade his followers to disperse in a peaceful manner. Until now, party leaders have harboured the illusion that they can still control the situation.

But, right from the beginning, these rebellious youths have never operated in a way that is familiar even to Wong or Leung. For one thing, they do not feel bound by party rules. Deep inside, these youths belong only to some vaguely defined and freely formed virtual community that acts on the spur of the moment. Things can easily get out of control at any moment.

With its followers convinced that they are right on every issue and unwilling to compromise, the league is taking a big gamble, with the Civic Party tagging along, in the by-election referendum. They think they can dominate the political scene through direct democracy, a euphemism for the infamous colour revolutions. The odds are against them, but they have nothing to lose. We, the public, are bound to lose out in the upcoming political and social turbulence - but we have nothing to gain.

Worse still, to these people, if you are not with them, you are against them. This is a game we do not want to play, but it is being forced upon us. Every one of us is required to take sides. Whose side are you on?