Hong Kong district council elections 2015

District Council election results shatter myth of political apathy in Hong Kong

Alice Wu says both the voter turnout and the winners’ roll show clearly Hongkongers care about how politics is conducted, and did not overreact to sloganeering and divisive tactics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 November, 2015, 10:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 November, 2015, 10:01am

Electioneering for last week’s district council elections was dull, but the results were spectacular.

Voter turnout, at 47 per cent, was unprecedented for elections at the district level. Despite the lack of an “election atmosphere”, voters came out on their own volition, turning conventional wisdom – that pro-establishment candidates would be at a disadvantage with a high turnout – on its head.

Was it the citywide verdict on the Occupy movement as some have suggested? No

It simply wasn’t true. In terms of the percentage of votes received, a fall of 1.36 per cent cannot be called a setback. The pro-democracy camp’s 1 per cent increase is equally insignificant.

With more voters heading to the polling stations, the pro-establishment camp actually fared quite well. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong – the city’s largest political party – fielded fewer candidates this year. It might have lost a number of seats (from 136 in 2011 to 119), but it garnered more votes.

Others, considered to be more moderate within the pro-establishment camp, made gains. For the New People’s Party, its gain is a testament to its growth and maturity as a party.

READ MORE: When more votes mean defeat: How these Hong Kong district council veterans lost their constituents

However, pro-establishment “oldies”, the DAB and the Federation of Trade Unions, have a lot to think about. With the growing appeal of moderates, they too must reconsider whether they must do more “political work” – like bridging divides instead of accentuating them.

Voters expect more than just protests in a divisive political environment. Reaching across divides, facilitating compromise and providing solutions are political assets.

READ MORE: Hong Kong pan-democrats’ old guard glad to see rise of young blood in elections

While the DAB was clearly not the winner of this race, the Democratic Party was the clear loser as a party, accounting for only 27 per cent of fielded candidates (37 fewer than 2011) and gaining fewer overall votes. Democratic Party veteran Albert Ho Chun-yan’s loss might trigger another round of calls for the party to rid itself of its “big brother heavyweights” election strategy, and give more opportunities to younger members.

Whether the Democratic Party is ready to face this remains to be seen. Like its counterparts in the pro-establishment camp, it comes down to whether it has the political will to change its deeply entrenched culture. For the Democrats, it’s a “big brother” culture, from its leadership, its way of ostracising the young and moderates, and its decision-making process.

Most spectacular of all was that the results defied pre-election “predictions”. Was it the citywide verdict on the Occupy movement as some have suggested? No. That would have made electors much less sophisticated than they have shown the world to be. The election was about much more than voters’ reaction to one political event.

READ MORE: Come join our work, chief executive Leung Chun-ying tells Hong kong’s young district council candidates

It was a reaction to all that has transpired – the prevailing ideologies that gave rise to the movement and the way political forces engaged with one another. And for that, the results show very clearly how the electorate feels.

Among the clearest indicator is the people’s call for change. By not giving a knee-jerk response to sloganeering and, therefore, shattering all efforts to predict the results, they quietly came out in large numbers and instigated change – however subtle – in a most dignified manner.

They also sent a clear message to politicians and Beijing that political apathy is a myth, and that, aside from livelihood issues, people care about politics and the way it is conducted, and that voters can handle political diversity.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA