Hong Kong district council elections 2015

Local council vote leaves Hong Kong still politically polarised

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, 10:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 November, 2015, 3:20pm

The most divisive times Hong Kong has known since the handover have resulted in a record turnout for elections for the lowest level of politics - the district councils. The outcome will reverberate before long at a higher level - the Legislative Council elections next year. It was the first chance voters have had since the defeat of a Beijing-backed package of political reform and the Occupy Central protest last year to express their views amid the city’s growing polarisation. It did not shake the DAB’s dominance at local level. But neither the pro-establishment nor the traditional democrats did as well as in the past. This is reflected in defeats of political heavyweights in both camps.

A measure of the revival of interest in exercising the right to vote is a comparison of Sunday’s 47 per cent turnout with the 44 per cent for the district council elections in 2003, when the government was widely unpopular. Amid an economic slowdown, voters punished pro-establishment parties over the government’s attempt to introduce a controversial security law and the Sars outbreak. This time the pro-establishment forces believed voters would punish those who supported Occupy Central, and the pan-democrats pinned their hopes on the ideals and aspirations of young voters. The pan-democrats had the worst of those outcomes.

The result means that Hong Kong remains polarised. If there is a silver lining, it is the emergence of younger political talent who do not carry all the baggage of the past. The impact of a generational change of voters may not be as dramatic as some hoped, but it is there and it will grow. It has also created a market for a new type of political campaigning, such as through social media, that does not rely on the traditional ways of rallying and networking.

Indeed, the so-called umbrella soldiers - candidates who were Occupy protesters - did not have the traditional resources, but relied on a whole new approach to mobilise supporters that also resulted in some of their unsuccessful candidates polling respectably.

Interestingly, those with the least to show from the elections were the radicals such as People’s Power, whose negative tactics in Legco appear to have done nothing for them among voters. By contrast the successful Neodemocrats represent a more moderate part of the Occupy movement.

These changing political undercurrents promise a more interesting and close Legco election.