MORE than 100 candidates have already filed their nominations for the 59 seats on offer for the March 5 municipal council elections. When nomination closes on Monday, each constituency is likely to attract an average of about 2.5 aspirants. The figures do not support claims by officials that the growth of party politics would lead to more competition for seats on the urban and regional councils. A few more interesting candidates are poised to come forward in the next few days. They include Mathias Woo, an activist and member of dance group Zuni Icosahedron, who has been criticising the Government and Urbco for their lack of a comprehensive policy towards enriching Hong Kong's cultural life. Mr Woo has yet to pick a constituency and there is a possibility he will take on Urbco chairman, Dr Ronald Leung Ding-bong, at Kowloon City North. However, public attention has focused primarily on Kwun Tong, where the Democratic Party is eager to check the influence of the pro-China groups ahead of the Legislative Council elections in September. The Democrats have locked horns with the pro-China elements and their allies in all six constituencies in the district. The race between Szeto Wah and Elsie Tu in Kwun Tong North, in particular, has stood out as the most spectacular. Electors in Kwun Tong tend to be more enthusiastic in exercising their voting rights than residents in other urban areas. The district recorded a 32 per cent voter turnout in the 1991 District Board elections, about 10 per cent higher than the average for the nine electorates in the urban areas. The district's voting rate rose slightly to 33.8 per cent last September, while the tally of registered electors has increased by more than 46,000 to 69,118 over the same period. The clash is likely to boost the turnout in Kwun Tong by a few percentage points. However, the municipal assembly elections have long been marred by public apathy. Geographical elections were introduced into Urbco in 1983. A meagre 22.4 per cent of the registered electors bothered to cast their votes. Yet, this still represents modest progress from the 18 per cent turnout registered in 1981. But 10 years on, the figure had hardly improved. In the last polls on May 5, 1991, 23.1 per cent of the registered voters turned out to return 25 municipal councillors. The turnout for March is expected to reach the threshold of 30 per cent in individual districts, including Kwun Tong. Kwun Tong has been billed a stronghold for the pro-China forces. Both the 210,000-strong Federation of Trade Unions and the Kwun Tong Residents Association command a strong following in the area. The Democratic Party, however, made significant inroads into some of the constituencies in Kwun Tong at the last District Board elections. Seven of the 13 hopefuls fielded by the party were successful. Since the appointment system was abolished, the liberal-minded members have slightly out-numbered the Beijing supporters on the 33-strong Kwun Tong District Board. The pro-China grouping is, for the first time, unable to dominate the board. Twelve of the members are considered pro-China, including four members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB). The Kwun Tong Residents Association is eager to get even with the Democrats in the Urbco contest. Six of their 12 nominees were defeated at the District Board level. Most of the leaders of the association are also affiliated to the DAB. Five candidates carrying the banners of the two groups will have to face opponents from either the Democratic Party or the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood. The only exception is Kwun Tong North, where the left-wing groups have decided to give way for Mrs Tu, who has served Urbco for three decades. The DAB has made an explicit effort to help Mrs Tu in her campaign to retain her seat. Irrespective of the final results, Mrs Tu, who doubles up as Urbco's nominee in the legislature, will be indebted to the party. She will be expected to side with the DAB against the Democrats in the more important Legislative Council race later in the year. Tam Yiu-chung, a vice-chairman of DAB, is set to give up his role as the labour sector's functional representative in Legco to contest the geographical direct elections in September. He is said to be eyeing the Kwun Tong district. Mrs Tu, who runs a secondary school in the area, will be a valuable ally for him and the party. While Mrs Tu can expect some concrete assistance from the DAB, the fact that she has formally teamed up with the pro-China camp might actually work against her canvassing plan. In any case, followers of the pro-China groups will vote against Mr Szeto, who has been singled out by Beijing as subversive. It does not really matter whether the DAB endorses Mrs Tu's candidacy - it will probably be the sympathisers of the liberal cause in general who may eventually tip the balance of power. But voters will have to make a difficult choice between the two candidates. Although Mrs Tu has sided with China on some controversial issues, she is still regarded as a committed champion of the social underdog. Mrs Tu, who turns 82 on June 2, actually enjoys a higher popularity ranking than Mr Szeto in most of the independent opinion surveys. Now that Mrs Tu has accepted the backing of the DAB, the undecided liberal sympathisers in the district will probably become more inclined to vote for Mr Szeto. Another factor that might undermine Mrs Tu's re-election bid is her age. Mr Szeto, will be 64 before polling day, but is still 18 years younger than his competitor. Opponents of Mr Szeto have stressed his inexperience in Urbco affairs. But given the highly politicised nature of the Kwun Tung North battle, electors will probably vote according to the aspirants' political outlook. On balance, Mr Szeto seems a better bet than Mrs Tu.