Hong Kong district council elections 2015

Pro-establishment camp divided ahead of district council elections

November's polls will clarify the post-Occupy political landscape. In the first part of a series, we study the plans of pro-establishment parties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 April, 2015, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2015, 1:35pm

Cautious optimism is blooming in the pro-establishment camp ahead of November's district council polls, with hopes high that the Occupy protests have put voters off the pan-democrats.

But the prospects of pro-establishment groups strengthening their dominance of the 18 councils are clouded by possible intra-camp competition with the growth of two new parties, the middle-class-oriented New People's Party and the Business and Professionals Alliance. The parties are the fastest growing forces at district level. The grass-roots focused Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong holds the most seats, while its ally the Federation of Trade Unions ranks third behind the Democrats.

Although councils have little formal power, success at district level is crucial to next year's Legislative Council election, where five seats will be chosen in a citywide poll open to 3.5 million voters, for which candidates need nominations from district councillors. The elections are also the first chance for Hongkongers to have their say at the ballot box since last year's Occupy protests.

With that in mind, the two up-and-coming parties are widely expected to contest more seats, including at least 11 held by their pro-establishment allies.

Meanwhile the DAB's 132 councillors and the FTU's 34 are expected to run again, while dozens of "community officers" - party members lined up to run - are putting in the legwork.

Nominations for the 431 seats - up from 412 last time, after the abolition of appointed seats - will not be finalised for months.

But the New People's Party is expected to field about 40 hopefuls, including most of its 30 incumbents. The alliance, which has 23 councillors, is expected to field about 30 candidates.

A case in point is Sha Tin's Wo Che Estate constituency, where DAB councillor Yue Shin-man says the alliance had opened a "community office", indicating an interest in challenging her.

In Sha Tin's Jat Min seat, NeoDemocrats councillor Yau Man-chun said the alliance and the New People's Party were operating. "It wasn't like that in the 2011 election. There weren't so many districts where they were fighting each other," Yau said.

The seats are two of five in Sha Tin where pro-establishment parties are gearing up to fight among themselves. Contests are also developing in parts of Kwai Tsing, Yuen Long, Sham Shui Po and Eastern District.

It's a far cry from 2011, when there were few such contests; a handful of DAB hopefuls in Northern District faced Heung Yee Kuk opponents, while one seat each in Yuen Long and Sai Kung saw DAB and FTU candidates go head to head,

The New People's Party won 12 of the seats it contested in 2011, but at least eight serving councillors have since joined the party, while a merger with Civil Force, a small group with strongholds in the eastern New Territories, brought the number up to 30.

The alliance didn't exist in 2011 but, since its founding in 2012, 23 councillors have joined.

Fong Ping, who oversees the alliance's district work, admitted intra-camp rivalry would be more fierce this time, but also hinted at a solution.

"It is normal to have some competition … maybe later we can coordinate among ourselves, and conduct opinion polls to decide who runs," Fong said. "We have more competition this year because the alliance was newly founded, while the New People's Party" is also more active.

New People's Party vice-chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun agreed clashes could be averted.

Ours "is the most rule-abiding party; we might only clash with our allies in one, if any, constituency," said Tien, who serves on Tsuen Wan district council.

Tien said the pro-establishment camp should go all out to make gains, given that Occupy had left voters frustrated.

And Thomas Cheung Tsun-yung, convenor of the alliance's district committee, agreed with Tien, saying: "We don't want to destroy relationships … so we hope to try our best in making [a deal] with other pro-establishment parties later."