What district votes mean to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 November, 2011, 12:00am


District council elections, involving 412 seats in 18districts across Hong Kong, will take place this Sunday.

Here we take a look at the history and development of the district council since colonial rule.

The district council: who, what, when?

Each district council term lasts for four years. The period for the forthcoming district council members will run from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015.

Hong Kong is approaching its fourth district council election. The number of elected district council members varies in different terms, depending on the population of Hong Kong, while the number of appointed members and ex-officio members has remained at 102 and 27, respectively, since the first election in 1999.

The electoral affairs commission says each elected member should represent 17,000 people.

The number of elected members was 390 in 1999 and has risen gradually to 412, the highest, in 2011.

There are 534 members in the current district council, with 405 of them elected. There are 102 appointed members, selected by the Chief Executive and also 27 ex-officio members, who are chairmen from the rural committee in the New Territories.

The government had planned to cut the number of appointed members from 102 to 68 in the forthcoming district council election, but whether these former appointed seats will become elected seats is still undecided.

Origin of the district council

In the 1860s, the social structure of Hong Kong was more important than its district structure, with people speaking the same dialect being grouped together.

The concept of boundary separation became important only around 1870, when cultural conflicts increased between Chinese and the European District Reservation Ordinance, and areas were reserved exclusively for Europeans. The first Town Planning Ordinance did not appear until 1939.

In 1982, district boards were established under the district administration scheme with the aim of improving the accountability and co-ordination of government activities and the provision of public services and facilities at the district level.

The district board was later renamed the district council in 1999.

In the first district board election in 1982, there were government officials acting as members of the district boards in addition to the elected, appointed and ex-officio members. Voters in those first elections had to be at least 21 years old and to have lived in Hong Kong for more than seven years.

Development of district council

In the second district board election in 1985, government officials were no longer members; the ratio of elected and appointed members was 2:1.

In 1994, then-governor Chris Patten abolished the appointing system; all district council members were elected members except for the 27 ex-officio members. The voting age limit for district council elections was cut from 21 to 18.

After the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was established, the original district boards became provisional district boards, something that existed from July 1, 1997 to December 31, 1999. They consisted of all the original members of the boards and members appointed by the Chief Executive.

The reappearance of appointed district council members led to criticism by pan-democrats, who called the government's decision a 'setback to the pace of democracy'.

In early 1999, a bill was passed in the Legislative Council to establish the district councils to replace the provisional district boards; the provisional district boards were replaced on January 1, 2000 with the district council.

Among the 102 appointed members of the district council in 1999, 2003 and 2007, none was a democrat. Critics claim the government did this intentionally to reduce the influence of democrats.

Distribution of district council members

Hong Kong is divided into 18districts, with four districts on Hong Kong Island, six in Kowloon and eight in the New Territories.

Within the 18 districts, Hong Kong is further divided into 412 District Council Constituency Areas (DCCAs). Each DCCA returns one district council member. Each DCCA has a population of about 17,000 people.

In this year's election, Eastern district, on Hong Kong Island, has the most district councillors, with 46 members - 37 of them are elected and nine appointed. Wan Chai district has the least number of members: 11 elected and three appointed.

There were two major changes in district divisions after the establishment of the district board during colonial rule. Kwai Tsing district was separated from the Tsuen Wan district in 1985 and Hong Kong was divided into 19 districts. The decision to split the district was made because the population of Tsuen Wan district had reached 600,000 - a huge number considering the entire population of Hong Kong was about five million at the time. In 1994, Yau Tsim District merged with Mong Kok District to form Yau Tsim Mong District and the number of districts became 18, as it is today.

Benefits of district council members

District council members are able to choose to work either full-time or part-time. Since 2008, their monthly salary is HK$18,700.

Members can also claim various kinds of expenses, including funds for employing district council office staff, and daily costs of running an office, such as stationery, electricity and water charges, and phone bills.

How the election works

The district council election runs on a 'first-past-the-post' voting system. Each voter can vote for only one candidate in the constituency concerned. The candidate that receives the largest number of votes is elected.

Each voter will be assigned to a designated polling station near his or her residential address.

Role of the district council

Qualified citizens are encouraged to vote in the polls to elect district council members who can represent their interests and advise the government on district matters.

District council members act as a bridge between citizens and the government - helping to keep the government informed about district matters and other local concerns.

The government also informs residents about any work that needs to be carried out by government departments in the district by holding meetings with district councillors.

District councils advise the government on matters affecting the well-being of people in the district. It initiates, organises and sponsors community projects and activities that aim to improve community spirit and social cohesion and promote the well-being of residents in the districts. These activities range from staging large-scale festivals to the formation of local youth choirs and dance troupes.

District councils also help to obtain government funding for local environmental improvements and the promotion of recreational, cultural and community activities.