Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing parties should brace themselves for a tough 2016
Gary Cheung says the emergence of younger voters in Hong Kong, who tend to back pan-democrats, is likely to affect the outcome of the Legislative Council election next year
The pro-establishment camp has nothing to celebrate after the district council elections. Some core members originally saw the polls as an occasion for voters to punish the pan-democrats for backing Occupy Central and voting down the government’s package for electing the chief executive in 2017. In the face of the apparently lukewarm atmosphere during campaigning, plus the strong electioneering machinery of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, even some pan-democrats were bracing themselves for poor results.
Yet, except for the embarrassing defeats of veteran pan-democrats Albert Ho Chun-yan and Frederick Fung Kin-kee, the camp managed to hold onto their turf.
The DAB won 119 seats and its candidates had a success rate of 69.6 per cent, down 5 percentage points on 2011. The flagship pro-establishment party described the results as “OK” but, given its abundant resources for campaigning and district work, the number of seats it secured is by no means encouraging. Don’t forget that the DAB pocketed a record HK$63.8 million at its fundraising event last year – several times the amount of the Democratic Party’s annual revenue.
The Federation of Trade Unions, another pro-Beijing group, grabbed 29 seats. But only one of its 20 first-timers was returned.
Worse, several DAB incumbents, including Christopher Chung Shu-kun, Elizabeth Quat, Wong Yung-kan and Chan Wan-sang, suffered stunning defeats. Chung, who succumbed to an “umbrella soldier” inspired by Occupy Central, Wong and Chan had been district councillors for more than two decades. Their defeats indicated that the district-level elections have become politicised, contrary to the conventional wisdom that they are more about livelihood issues.
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The impact of young voters, including the 261,000 who were newly registered this year, remains to be seen as the Registration and Electoral Office has yet to release the breakdown of voter turnout by age group. But the flocking of young voters to polling stations caught the campaign teams of many pro-establishment candidates by surprise, rekindling memories of the massive numbers coming out to vote in the 2003 district elections. Quat, the DAB lawmaker who lost her seat in the Sha Tin district council, noted that a substantial number of residents whom she seldom saw in her constituency had gone to polling stations to cast their ballot.
The high turnout of 44 per cent for the 2003 election, held four months after a 500,000-strong march forced the government to withdraw its proposal for controversial national security legislation, resulted in a humiliating defeat for the DAB.
This year, the pro-establishment camp managed to offset the impact of the record turnout of 47 per cent by stepping up the mobilisation of its supporters to cast ballots. Thanks to polarisation in the wake of Occupy, some people who oppose the civil disobedience movement also came out to make their voices heard.
The pro-establishment camp should prepare itself for more sobering results at next year’s Legislative Council election. Based on the record of previous elections, young voters, who tend to back pan-democrats, are more drawn to Legco elections than district council polls. In the 2011 district council election, about 30 per cent of registered voters aged 18 to 30 turned out to vote. The turnout rate of voters in this age group rose to 49 per cent in the 2012 Legco election. The pro-establishment camp should brace itself.
Gary Cheung is the Post’s political editor