Pan-democrats suffer as demographic changes tip the balance
The pan-democrats' setback in the district council elections defied the conventional wisdom that they benefit from higher turnouts, since voter turnout was 2.6 percentage points higher than in the 2007 polls.
Political analysts said the unexpected result may be due to demographic changes among voters.
The increased number of older voters and new mainland arrivals may have shifted the balance towards government-friendly candidates even if voter turnout increases.
The 2003 district council elections - held in a charged atmosphere four months after 500,000 people took to the streets to oppose the proposed national security legislation - saw a relatively high turnout of 44.1 per cent. In that election, the Beijing loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) suffered a humiliating defeat, securing just 62 of the 206 seats it contested. The Democratic Party won 95 of 120 seats it contested.
When turnout dropped to 38.8 per cent in 2007, the DAB scored a landslide, winning 115 seats while the Democrats won only 59 seats.
In Sunday's election, with turnout at 41.4 per cent, the Democratic Party won 47 seats compared to 136 seats grabbed by the DAB. About 2.9 million voters were eligible to vote in the contested constituencies on Sunday, 480,000 more than in 2003.
Dr Li Pang-kwong, director of the public governance programme at Lingnan University, estimated that more than 200,000 new mainland arrivals had become eligible to register as voters since 2003. Li said about half of them are of voting age. 'These new immigrants are more inclined to rely on community service networks provided by government-friendly groups, which will mobilise them to come out to vote for government-friendly candidates in elections.
'The votes of the new mainland arrivals are significant in district-level elections, where an extra one or two hundred votes determines the outcome,' Li said.
Dr James Sung Lap-kung, a City University political scientist, said the government-friendly camp had done a better job of mobilising people to register as voters. 'About 60 per cent of voters registered in the past year were mobilised by government-friendly groups,' he said.
Dr Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, professor of political science at City University and former secretary-general of the Civic Party, said anecdotal evidence and his observations showed that new mainland arrivals were strongly motivated to vote.
The latest profile of registered voters shows that about 898,000 of them are 61 years old or older - one-quarter of the 3.55 million total. That is 21.9 per cent more than in the 2007 polls.
Cheng said the pan-democratic camp could scarcely compete with the government-friendly parties in mobilising the elderly.
But the conventional wisdom about high turnout favouring pan-democrats might still be valid if a major issue captured the public attention as it did in 2003, he said.