DISTRICT COUNCIL ELECTIONS 2015: SPECIAL REPORT
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Hong Kong district council elections 2015

Hong Kong district council elections: the top 4 surprises and what they mean to the future of politics in the city

Favourites fall, ‘Umbrella soldiers’ march, and Hong Kong’s future looks as uncertain as ever

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, 8:56am

Surprise 1: Pan-democratic heavyweights fall

Two of the most famous pro-democracy figures who had won the highest number of votes in the last Legislative Council election of 2012 suffered humiliating defeats in Sunday’s District Council elections. The Democratic Party’s Albert Ho Chun-yan won 1,617 votes, 125 fewer than former Law Society president Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, while Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, won 2,432 votes. His main challenger, 25-year-old Chan Wing-yan, backed by both Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions beat him by 99 votes. Fung’s former ally Eric Wong Chung-ki, who stood against him in the same constituency, won 215 votes.

With the loss of their district seats, the pair will not be able to run for Legco super seats next year. Yesterday’s outcome stood in sharp contrast with their stellar records of garnering more than 200,000 votes in the 2012 Legco polls. Questions now loom over whether their political careers are coming to an end.

READ MORE: Out with the old: Two big-name pan-democrats ousted in tight district council election races

Surprise 2: DAB lawmakers see dip in pro-establishment seats

Two established DAB lawmakers, Elizabeth Quat and Christopher Chung Shu-kun, lost their district council bids, but under more unexpected circumstances than their pan-democratic counterparts. Chung was defeated by a relatively unknown candidate, a so-called ‘Umbrella soldier’, Chui Chi-kin, who decided to run on the last day of the nomination period. Umbrella soldiers are candidates inspired by the Occupy protests of last year. Chung attributed his defeat to first-time voters. Quat succumbed to the Labour Party’s Yip Wing. Overall the DAB lost 17 seats, leaving it with 117 councillors. But that figure is enough for it to retain its status as Hong Kong’s biggest political party.

Surprise 3: The rise of the ‘Umbrella soldiers’

A lack of resources and name recognition did not deter the ‘Umbrella soldiers’, protesters-turned-political aspirants who were moved to action by last year’s Occupy protests and felt compelled to seek elected office to spread their concept of democracy.

Around 50 of them contested, with many analysts initially doubtful that they would score victories. Yet seven of these Umbrella soldiers managed to march into district councils. Apart from Chui, Kwong Po-yin, of newly formed group Youngspiration, defeated Kowloon City council chairman Lau Wai-wing, although the better-known Yau Wai-ching lost to the incumbent, lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, by a close margin of 300 votes.

READ MORE: Exposed: Pro-establishment supporters bussed elderly people to polling stations and directed them to vote in Hong Kong elections

Given their better-than-expected results Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung argued it may be time for the major parties to consider giving the next generation a chance to stand in next year’s Legco races.

Surprise 4: NeoDemocrats go 15 for 16

By percentages, no pan-democratic group fared better than the NeoDemocrats, which won 15 out of their 16 bids, scoring a 93.8 per cent success rate.

Of the NeoDemocrats’ 16 candidates, six were incumbents seeking a second term. They included Gary Fan Kwok-wai, who is also the group’s only representative in the Legislative Council. Fan was regarded as one of the most outspoken pan-democrats advocating localism, urging the government to make Hongkongers’ interests the top priority in policy-making. He also protested against parallel trading in the northern New Territories, where residents complained about mainland travellers for buying up daily necessities for resale across the border.

The NeoDemocrats’ victories also meant gains in the Northern and Tsuen Wan districts councils, as previously they only held seats in Sai Kung, Sha Tin and Tai Po district councils.

Community officer Wong Pui-chi was the only NeoDemocrat who lost on Sunday. She was defeated by Lam Faat-kang in Luk Yeung constituency by a narrow margin of 260 votes.

Now, looking at what the results mean, here are three questions to consider:

Question 1: Will the city be more politicised?

With a record turnout, and victories by ‘Umbrella soldiers’, City University political scientist James Sung Lap-kung said he believes 2016 will be a very political year.

“With both camps mobilising their supporters to vote on Sunday ... the district council poll shows that our society remains very divided politically, and there is also a by-election coming up [next spring],” Sung said.

READ MORE: Exposed: Pro-establishment supporters bussed elderly people to polling stations and directed them to vote in Hong Kong elections

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung added that although many ‘Umbrella soldiers’ were defeated, their total vote share was not minor.

Their score highlighted that a portion of the voters remains critical of traditional pan-democratic parties’ contact with the central government, and it could affect the direction of those parties, Choy suggested.

Question 2: How will Legco elections be affected?

Since veteran pan-democrats Albert Ho and Frederick Fung were defeated, Sung believes younger faces, such as Democrats’ vice-chairman Lo Kin-hei, will play a bigger role in the race for the five super seats next year.

To run for super-seats, one must first win a district council seat. Super-seat legislators are elected via a poll of 3.2 million voters not eligible to vote in any of the trade-based functional constituencies. Given their larger electoral base, they command a bigger mandate than other lawmakers and are seen as having more credibility.

Choy said that with the defeat of two DAB lawmakers in the district council poll, “both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment parties have to respond to the call for younger faces in the Legco election.”

Sung also said that ‘Umbrella soldiers’ could become the third major force in the Legco election, apart from the pan-democratic and the pro-establishment camp.

READ MORE: ‘Umbrella soldiers’ battle pro-establishment candidates in District Council elections

A more influential team of ‘Umbrella soldiers’ would also benefit the older democratic parties, but it would depend on whether they can improve on their co-ordination, he added.

From the Sunday poll, it was unclear how the radical pan-democratic groups, such as Civic Passion and People Power, would fare as radical groups had done well in the Legco elections 2012 after landslide defeat in the district council elections in 2011.

Question 3: How influential were young voters?

Exact figures have yet to be released, but DAB’s Christopher Chung, who lost his seat in the Eastern District Council, believed his defeat was related to first-time young voters unhappy about his work.

James Sung said the victories of ‘Umbrella soldiers’ were the best indication that young first-time voters had played a powerful role on Sunday.