Hopes are dashed on both sides of the fence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2007, 12:00am

It is a touch ironic that Kam Nai-wai and Christopher Chung Shu-kun have much in common given that they represent rival political camps.

Both work in the information technology industry and have served as district councillors for more than a decade. The pair also served as urban councillors from 1995 until the council was disbanded in 1999.

Both have daughters and have made failed attempts to win seats on the Legislative Council.

Now, they have given way to former top officials Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee for the December Legco by-election on Hong Kong Island.

Their fate may be down to coincidence but the pair are typical of those striving to climb the political ladder.

'Ten years since the handover, the government has done nothing to nurture political talent,' said Mr Chung, 50, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Dubbed a second-tier member of his party, Mr Chung, who has been an Eastern District councillor for 16 years, feels strongly about the lack of opportunities for politicians at the district level.

He has run in four Legco elections as the third or fourth candidate on the DAB ticket - which virtually meant no chance of winning a seat under the proportional representation system, which requires voters to choose from lists of candidates instead of voting for a particular one. The candidates in the top slots on a list stand a higher chance of being elected.

'I plan to retire from the political arena when I turn 60. Before then, I will keep fighting to advance my political career. If I can't achieve the goal of being elected as a legislator, I need another plan for myself,' Mr Chung said.

He said he had found there was less room to develop a political career in Hong Kong.

Since the size of district board constituencies had been drastically cut in 1994 and the urban and regional councils abolished five years later, politicians at district level could only focus their attention on trivial housing-estate issues, he said.

Mr Kam, a founding member of the Democratic Party, has served as a Central and Western District councillor for 13 years and stood for a Legco seat in 2000 as the third candidate on his party's list.

He was denied the chance to run in a by-election that year following the resignation of DAB vice-chairman Gary Cheng Kai-nam, because his party backed Audrey Eu Yuet-mee's candidacy.

Mr Kam has pulled out of the December by-election to make way for former chief secretary Mrs Chan.

'Even if [Democratic Party lawmaker] Martin Lee [Chu-ming] does not run and gives way to me in the next Legco election, it does not mean voters will vote for me,' he said, saying district councillors' popularity did not compare with that of 'political stars', because of the small size of district council constituencies.

Given the councils' lack of power, he said, he sometimes felt helpless. 'As a district councillor, you can't even help add a traffic light for residents.'

For Mr Kam, repeated but failed attempts to make progress in politics is frustrating. He said he had proposed to his party that he would not run again in this year's district council elections, but as there was no one to succeed him in his constituency, he had to stand.

At 47, he has reservations over whether to run in next year's Legco election, saying this depended on how he fared in his computer systems company. 'After all, I need to take care of my family.'

Both men said they would not advise the younger generation to follow in their footsteps.

Asked how he would respond if his 23-year-old daughter wanted to become a district councillor, Mr Chung said: 'She is already scared of what I do.'

Mr Kam's 13-year-old daughter is still too young to consider her career. But he warned young people to think twice before embarking on a political career.

Mr Chung added that if the Hong Kong Island seat left vacant by the death of DAB chairman Ma Lik was contested by second-tier members from both camps, this would set an example for the new blood.