Legislative Council elections 2016

Five face off for Hong Kong’s fiercely contested social welfare sector in coming elections

Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union president Yip Kin-chung, Occupy sit-in activists Shiu Ka-chun and Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, ex-lawmaker Nelson Wong Sing-chi and retired academic Professor Alex Kwan Yui-huen are all hoping for a place

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 August, 2016, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 August, 2016, 9:03pm

The social welfare sector has emerged as the most fiercely contested battleground among the functional constituencies this year with five aspirants vying for a seat in the legislature to represent some 21,000 social workers in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union has endorsed its president Yip Kin-chung to run for the seat vacated by outgoing Labour Party lawmaker Peter Cheung Kwok-che, whom it previously backed, while Occupy sit-in activists Shiu Ka-chun and Ken Tsang Kin-chiu both hoped to keep the civil disobedience movement spirit alive by entering the Legislative Council.

Former lawmaker Nelson Wong Sing-chi, who was expelled by the Democratic Party last year, and retired academic Professor Alex Kwan Yui-huen also signed up for the race at the last minute.

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Shiu, who lectures on social work at the Baptist University and hosted the nightly rally at Harcourt Road during the Occupy protests, admitted that Yip did enjoy the upper hand by having support from the union – the city’s most influential body among social workers – but argued that it was time to take a more progressive approach in the chamber.

“A lawmaker has not worked hard enough [when he] simply condemns his opponents for voting down the motion he tabled,” Shiu told the Post. “Instead, he should actively engage the sector and public to build up the momentum ahead of the vote … and eventually force other lawmakers to back it.”

With his active participation in social movements, Shiu believed he could foster a stronger link between the society and the legislature.

Appealing to a similar audience, Tsang has become a household name after allegedly being beaten by seven police officers during Occupy. He was earlier convicted of assaulting police and resisting arrest at the protest.

He has quit the Civic Party to join the race after his party refused to endorse him.

“It is hard to judge whether the court case is a burden [to me] or not… as it has also provided an opportunity [for] others know more about me,” said Tsang.

“At the end of the day, it is the candidate’s integrity, vision and ability that matter the most.”

The unprecedented heavy infighting among the pan-democrats has made many people wonder whether it would hand the social welfare seat – which has been secured by the pan-democrats since the city’s handover in 1997 – to their opponents.

But Tsang was optimistic, citing that the pan-democratic camp had won 90 per cent of votes in the 2012 election.

Meanwhile, Kwan, an independent candidate, has rejected the pro-government label.

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Formerly the head of the City University’s Applied Social Studies Department, Kwan said he would not back Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for a possible second term.

“The last thing social workers want to see is a fragmented city … but Leung has managed to achieve this in just three years, something even [former chief executives] Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen have failed to do,” he said.

Unlike the other candidates, the retired scholar said he hoped to focus on the issues concerning his industry should he become a lawmaker.

“The former lawmakers have always focused on the broad issues but do not care much about social workers, who also need help to maintain their professional image and morale,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wong, who was heavily criticised by his former allies for backing the Beijing-decreed political reform plan last year, said he decided to join the race because of the infighting in the camp.

“They run for their personal interests instead of aiming to unite the pro-democracy camp,” he said.

Yip could not be reached for comment. There are 13,824 voters in the social welfare sector.