National Education

Controversy over national education boosts turnout in Legco election

More Hongkongers turned out yesterday than in 2008, and many said they cast their ballots with an eye on candidates' stance on the issue

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2012, 4:20am

Dissatisfaction with the new government's performance prompted more people to go to the polls yesterday.

With voter turnout up on four years ago, many said they cast their ballots in reaction to the administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and particularly its attempts to introduce national education into the city's schools.

Their remarks came just hours after Leung staged a dramatic climbdown on the controversy, announcing on Saturday that the government has scrapped the three-year implementation deadline. Schools are now free to choose independently whether to include the subject in their curriculums.

One voter, a retiree, said he voted for a pan-democratic candidate because he believed they had the determination to get the government to withdraw the ''brainwashing'' curriculum.

''You know who I voted for from the black cap I am wearing today,'' he said, referring to the campaign against national education that urged people to wear black as a show of support.

He also said he felt the need to vote because the city government had so far failed to defend the "one country, two systems" policy, with Beijing's liaison office seeming to have a big say in Hong Kong's affairs.

May Poon Yin-mei, mother of a young daughter, also said candidates' stance on national education had a bearing on who she decided to vote for.

"I have a daughter and I don't want her to be brainwashed. While I believe it is not a bad thing to have this curriculum in schools, now is not the right time to introduce it. We need more consultation on the content of the curriculum first," Poon said.

Mechanic Pang Wing-cheung had a similar view. "I will drop anyone who supports national education," the 47-year-old said. He had voted for independent Kay Yim Fung-chi, who made the scrapping of national education classes her key election platform.

"To love a country does not mean you should also love the state. The curriculum is simply not objective," Pang said.

Meanwhile, several people cast their votes before joining the protest against national education in Admiralty.

''The candidates' stance on national education and what they did in the past are my top concerns when I vote today," said Chan Yuen-ting, 37, a mother of two.

Another protester, Monique Kwok Ka-wai, 26, said she had a bigger desire to vote because of the national education controversy. She voted for Andrew To Kwan-hang of the League of Social Democrats.

The election also attracted some first-timers.

''Our city is in a chaotic situation, which made me decide to vote for candidates who truly represent Hongkongers,'' said one, a 19-year-old surnamed Choi.

Analyst James Sung Lap-kung of City University said the high turnout could be put down to the rise of the radical People Power party, which has drawn many young people who did not care about social issues in the past.

He believes the pro-establishment candidates' unclear stance on national education will affect their results.

But the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's ''super seat'' candidate, Lau Kong-wah, said it was unlikely that a single issue like national education would affect voting preferences.