District council polls attract record vote
1.14 million cast ballots in most competitive election
A record 1.149 million people voted yesterday in the city's most competitive district council polls ever, with a turnout exceeding 38 per cent.
Although the number of people who voted was the highest recorded in any lower-tier election, the percentage of registered voters that cast ballots was lower than the record 44.06 per cent turnout in the last polls in 2003.
The number of voters who went to the polls yesterday exceed the 1,066,373 people who cast ballots in 2003 in the wake of the landmark July 1 mass protest that drew half a million people to the streets.
Unlike the economic woes and social and political grievances that existed four years ago, yesterday's ballot came amid a buoyant economy and improved public sentiment.
Turnout was also higher than the 35.82 per cent recorded in 1999 and 33.1 per cent in 1994.
In the hotly contested Peak constituency, Civic Party first-time candidate Tanya Chan Suk-chong was poised to oust Liberal incumbent Mark Lin with a narrow margin, early counting showed. Ms Chan said she was encouraged by the outcome.
Ip Kwok-him of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong regained his Kwun Lung seat with 2,702 votes, way ahead of conservation activist Ho Loy and independent Jacky Leong Kim-kam.
Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, who led the July mass protest in 2003, was ousted by Scarlett Pong Oi-lan, of the Beijing-friendly New Century Forum, by a vote of 1,340 to 1,160 in Fo Tan constituency in Sha Tin.
In Tai Po Hui, DAB lawmaker Li Kwok-ying defeated Civic Party opponent Tsang Kwok-fung.
Other lawmakers such as the DAB's Choy So-yuk and Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan also kept their seats in Eastern and Tuen Mun.
Wrapping up the ballot, Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Mr Justice Pang Kin-kee said the turnout was satisfactory.
Among the districts, Islands ranked first in voter turnout with 44.7 per cent, followed by 42.2 per cent in Wong Tai Sin and 41.43 per cent in Kwun Tong. Wan Chai had the lowest turnout, 30.66 per cent.
Mr Justice Pang denied publicity had been inadequate, saying the government could not force anyone to vote. 'I am not disappointed. It's the voters' choice as to how and when they would cast the vote, and whether they would vote at all,' he said.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the government would build close working relations with the councils for a more harmonious and quality living environment for the community.
Commenting on the lower turnout, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung pointed out that more people had actually voted this time.
Asked if the government's publicity had been insufficient, Mr Lam would say only that the rise in the voting population, from 2.42 million in 2003 to 2.96 million now, made it difficult to maintain the turnout.
The elections were the most competitive ever, with a record 866 contestants vying for 364 seats. A further 41 seats were returned unopposed.
Election expert Li Pang-kwong, of Lingnan University, attributed the lower turnout to an easing of social grievances among the community and an enlarged electorate.