Calmer political days in Hong Kong result in drop in donations for pro-democracy groups at Lunar New Year fair

Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong have received fewer donations from Lunar New Year fair shoppers this year, with party leaders pointing to less politically charged times in Hong Kong as a reason.

Demosisto said it raised about HK$480,000 (US$61,500) by selling souvenirs and from donations at the six-day Lunar New Year fair in Victoria Park, the highest among the different groups for the third year in a row.

However, the figure was down from HK$780,000 last February, when its member Agnes Chow Ting had just been banned from running in a Legislative Council by-election.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China come second this year with HK$350,000 in donations before deducting operating expenses. It was followed by the Justice Defence Fund, which secured about HK$277,000 to support the legal battles of several activists and liberal scholars, including for the trial of nine leaders of the 2014 Occupy protests.

The alliance received about HK$375,000 in 2018, while the fund took some HK$310,000.

Other major political parties saw donations fall significantly this year. The Civic Party received HK$174,000 compared with HK$270,000 last year, while the Democratic Party took just HK$94,000, almost 40 per cent lower than in 2018.

Democrats had mixed feelings about the fundraising, which served as an indicator of citizens’ support for party causes.

Some said it was natural for funds to drop off from the political upheaval of 2018 when several activists were jailed, while others noticed citizens were more conservative with their spending.

Demosisto chairman Ivan Lam Long-yin said donations last year surged because of Chow’s disqualification and the recent release from jail of former lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung following his Occupy trial.

The group still managed to beat its 2017 debut of HK$360,000 in donations.

“Last year there was political controversy [at the time of the fair],” Lam said. “I’m not really worried about people feeling political fatigue.”

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The radical League of Social Democrats received a party-record HK$320,000 in donations last year after vice-chairman Raphael Wong Ho-ming was jailed over a protest against the government’s plan to build a new town in the northeast New Territories. He was later acquitted by the top court.

The group’s donations this year fell to HK$240,000 but that figure was still higher than HK$180,000 at the 2017 Lunar New Year fair.

Party chairman Avery Ng Man-yuen said those who made donations were still angry about recent government policies, including an increase of the age threshold for elderly welfare allowances from 60 to 65 years old.

“They were just donating smaller banknotes this year, but there could be a basket of reasons [for donations] including Wong’s jailing,” Ng said.

Civic Party vice-chairman Bill Lay Yan-pau agreed there were no burning political issues this time around but he also said his party had changed its strategy for the fair.

“Mostly we’re treating the fair as a venue for promotion instead of fundraising,” Lay said, adding its stock was sold out.

Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, vice-chairman of the alliance, which is raising funds for a new June 4 museum, observed similar behaviour from its supporters.

“The response has generally been quite good, but people have been more conservative in their spending as the economy could face a downturn this year,” he said.

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