Hong Kong heads to the polls in District Council elections marking the first test of city's political sentiment after Occupy protests
In the first public expression of political sentiment since the Occupy protests, Hong Kongers cast their votes for local candidates
More than 340,000 registered voters took to the District Council polls as of 11.30 am on Sunday morning, representing a higher 10.9 per turnout rate than previously.
While some observers are keen to get a sense of political sentiments in the first electoral test facing the city's local politicians after last year's 79-day Occupy protests, others say voters are likely to be more pre-occupied with local issues than big-ticket political controversies. So issues such as the election of the Chief Executive, the key reason that prompted the demonstrations of last summer may not feature as prominently in voters' minds, they say.
Expressing that view was first-time voter Szeto Tsan-man, who said even though if was an Occupy supporter, he would support a pro-government figure as long as the person would do a "good job" in his Wong Tai Sin's Lung Sing constituency.
Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Mr Justice Barnabas Fung Wah said that by 10.30am, 6.79 per cent had voted, marking a higher turnout rate than the 6.73 per cent recorded in the same period during the 2011 elections.
Out of the 18 districts across the territory, the highest turnout rates were recorded in Kwun Tong with 7.92 per cent, Sham Shui Po with 7.74 per cent and Kwai Tsing with 7.69 per cent.
“Voting is very simple. I encourage electors to exercise their civic rights and fulfil their civil responsibilities,” said Fung.
He added the commission had received about 295 complaints regarding the elections as of 9am, mostly pertaining to advertising and campaigning. “We’ve visited different polling stations at different districts and they have all been operating smoothly.”
A total of 495 ordinary polling stations and 24 dedicated polling stations are open across the territory today for about 3.12 million registered electors to cast their votes up until 10.30pm tonight. There are 867 candidates competing for 363 seats this year. The results are expected to outline if the pro-democracy occupy movement last year has any impact on the political landscape.
The city government’s top officials also took to the ballot boxes in the morning. Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying and his wife Regina Leung Tong Ching-yee showed up at the Mid Levels East constituency at about 8am to cast their vote.
Leung said the Hong Kong government attached great importance to the function of District Councils as they played an important role in promoting development and management of district- level issues and addressing problems unique to their area.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also urged citizens to exercise their civic rights and cast their vote. She said the District Councils were an important partner of the government.
The race is heated at South Horizons East, where Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, 47, is challenging two 20-year residents in the estate: the incumbent 16-year district councillor Morgan Lam Kai-fai, 64, and South Horizons Concern Group chairman Joseph Au Yuen-fat, 62.
Chan, who is the third Civic Party member to challenge in this constituency, said they have accumulated a lot of experience to improve on district work, and bring more comprehensive services to residents.
“The incumbent district councillor will of course have his advantage,” said Chan. “But at the same time, the opposition’s voices are also strong. We hope everyone will seize the chance to cast their vote.”
Chan, a first-time district council candidate is among the many who are trying to give a face lift to the pro-establishment-dominated council.
Liu Kok-hang, 82, a 26-year resident at South Horizons said he considered the candidates’ ground work in the district when he castes his vote.
“I hope he can help improve South Horizons residents’ daily livelihood, and answer to our requests,” the retired fireman said.
The Central and Western district is another area with the fiercest competition between the pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp.
In Kwun Lung constituency, Baggio Leung Chung-heng, convenor of the Occupy splinter group Youngspiration, said his will spend time meeting voters on Smithfield, where many middle class residents will be walking from their apartments to the polling station.
Leung’s opponent Yeung Hoi-wing, from the Beijing-loyalist Democractic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, is trying to succeed his mentor Ip Kwok-him, who is stepping down after serving in Kwun Lung for about 2 decades.
Leung said: “This year is a golden opportunity for us because a new guy is running, and there are new families and young couples who has moved in since 2013.”
Youngspiration, with nine members running in today, forms the biggest group of candidate inspired by the 79-day “umbrella movement” last year.
Six of those Occupy-inspired contenders, or “umbrella soldiers”, are competing with Democratic Party candidates.
That include Baggio Leung’s fellow group member Chau Sai-kit, whose rivals in Kennedy Town and Mount Davis are young Democrat Sin Cheuk-nam and DAB incumbent Chan Hok-Fung, vice-chairman of the Central and Western District Council.
Elsewhere in the district, independent pro-establishment candidate David Yip Wing-Shing has deployed an army of volunteers to help him win another term.
As the government is abolishing all 68 appointed seats by the year’s end, he is one of the 13 appointees running today.
His sole rival is Democratic Party lawyer Victor Yeung Sui-yin, who was unseated by a pro-establishment businessman four years ago.