Politics is second to solving people's problems: New People's Party's Judy Chan Ka-pui
Judy Chan came first in the Southern District Council by-election. But for the new councillor at the New People's Party, the people come first
Four months ago, few in Hong Kong - not to mention the political arena - would have heard of the name Judy Chan Ka-pui.
Yet, the New People's Party freshman shot to fame in the small hours of March 24 when she defeated Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai and People Power chairwoman Erica Yuen Mi-ming to win a Southern District Council by-election. The poll was triggered when former Democrat Andrew Fung Wai-kwong resigned to become the information co-ordinator for the Chief Executive's Office.
Chan, who turns 34 this week, will represent the South Horizons West constituency after winning 2,023 votes, beating Yuen's 1,083 votes and Sin's 920 votes.
While much of the post-election analysis focused on how a radical People Power candidate had managed to out-poll a moderate pan-democrat for the first time, some political commentators also wondered whether New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee had been the decisive factor in the pro-establishment party's first victory in the middle-class community on Ap Lei Chau.
On Friday, Chan told the South China Morning Post that her "teacher" Ip had played a pivotal role in the election. But she also believes that residents recognised her work in the community over the previous seven months.
"The main reasons [for the victory] are that Ip has [maintained an office] here in the last six years … and that I am familiar with a group of residents, whom I live with in this community. That has been helpful [during my campaign]," Chan said.
"I have heard that people felt I was mysterious and some residents might have decided to give me a chance just because I am Ip's protégé, so now I have to perform and prove that my voters have made the right choice. I won't disappoint them."
In the run-up to the election, Chan made much of the fact that she was the only candidate who lives in South Horizons. Yet she only moved last autumn from her parents' apartment on Robinson Road to her new home.
Chan rented her flat in October - about the time when Fung's new job was confirmed by the government - but she insisted this was just a coincidence.
"[The two] were unrelated," Chan stressed. "[I just felt that] I can only understand the residents' needs if I move in here." Standing for a by-election wasn't on her mind back then, she said.
She was offered a job as the party's full-time community development officer in South Horizons last summer. That position had been unfilled since Jeff Sze Chun-fai left the office in 2012 to become a political assistant to the secretary for education.
Taking up a full-time job for the New People's Party was a big change in Chan's life, as the 33-year-old had previously spent a decade in marketing, including about seven years in a manufacturing company in Chicago. "After graduating with a business degree in Australia, I was planning to return to Hong Kong. But there was the Sars outbreak in 2003 and I couldn't find a job here, so I went to work in the US."
As she approached 30, Chan felt she had to quit her job and seek a fresh start in Hong Kong.
"But I was away from Hong Kong for more than 15 years, and I felt Hong Kong had become unfamiliar to me back then … that was the time when a friend introduced me to the Savantas Policy Institute, which was organising a liberal studies course, and that was also where I met [its founder] Ip," Chan said.
As a member of the think tank, Chan joined the New People's Party when it was founded in 2011, and has taken an active role ever since - including helping out with its first District Council election campaign in the same year.
During that citywide poll, eight out of the New People's Party's 12 candidates were defeated - including Sze, whose 1,894 votes were still no match for Fung, who was narrowly re-elected with 1,906 ballots.
But that campaigning experience, and work done on Ip's successful bid to win a second term in the Legislative Council, prompted Chan to switch to politics. "[I was struggling] to get into advertising, which I was interested in … I also thought about starting my own business but the economy was unstable.
"It offers a great sense of achievement and satisfaction. I've seen residents feeling so happy [after helping them] to solve a seemingly trivial [problem], and you know that you have done something [that matters.]"
Chan is expected to stand for re-election next year, and some have speculated about her making an appearance on her party's slate for the 2016 Legco election. That's for others to worry about, she says.
"I'll do my job [as a district councillor] first."
But with Fung and Sze leaving the district to join the Leung Chun-ying administration, Chan was certain about one thing - that she did not want to follow the pair's footsteps.
"I am absolutely not interested in joining the government. I think my councillor job suits me because I love to talk to people. I'm worried that I won't have the chance if I join the government," Chan said.
Judy Chan Ka-pui
Turns 34 this week
- High school in Australia
- Graduated from Monash University with a bachelor of business degree in marketing
- Marketing executive for a manufacturing company in Chicago
- Marketing manager for a Hong Kong company
- Community development officer, New People's Party
- Southern District councillor
- Youth Committee chairwoman, New People's Party
- Executive Committee member, New People's Party