Hong Kong district council elections 2015

Forecasting a change: 'umbrella soldiers' challenge old guard in Hong Kong's district council elections

Activists inspired by Occupy will be fighting Democrats in some key seats

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 12:54pm

More than 40 activists who took part in the Occupy movement are running in the district council elections.

Although they may not pose a serious threat to the pro-establishment camp, they argue that their challenge, staged in middle-class as well as low-income neighbourhoods, will spread the same "bottom-up" community planning spirit that inspired them during last year's pro-democracy protests, also known as the Umbrella Movement.

But a few of these "umbrella soldiers" are giving the Democratic Party a headache as they clash with its candidates in the same constituencies.

A tally by the Post reveals that 42 of the 935 candidates have either declared they come from new groups that emerged from Occupy or were politically awakened by the 79-day sit-ins.

Quite a few of them are professionals such as doctors, accountants, IT professionals and financiers, while others include the owner of an adventure-sports business, two chefs and a university student.

Among them, Au Lai-chong, 39, an active member of Financial Professionals for Occupy Central, is vying against incumbent Ivan Wong Wang-tai, an independent, for the seat in the Stubbs Road constituency in Wan Chai.

"I chose this neighbourhood because I think my work experience and family background is similar to the residents here," said Au, whose father is prominent Macau banker Stanley Au Chong-kit. "I understand their concerns."

Au formed an alliance, Wanchai Commons, with a dozen Occupy protesters in May and has organised activities to introduce themselves to people in the district. They also conducted a survey and found residents most wanted to improve environmental and traffic problems.

Her rival, a three-time winner who voted for the government's reform package in the district council in May, said residents might not welcome an Occupy candidate. "We had traffic jams during Occupy. I think voters will take this into account when casting their votes," Wong said.

In Kowloon's To Kwa Wan North, Shum Tai-fung is challenging Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The 23-year-old said he was encouraged by a pan-democratic lawmaker to "fill the gap" as the camp did not have enough candidates to contest the pro-establishment forces.

"I'm not afraid," said Shum, who works in a law firm. "I know this is an uphill battle but I don't think sister King has been perfect in her work."

He noted that about 3,000 registered voters in that area did not come out to vote in the last election in 2011.

Problems specific to the grass-roots district, he said, such as substandard subdivided flats needed to be tackled better and he believed that his legal knowledge would help.

Lee could not be reached for comment. Also in the race is long-time election runner Lam Yi-lai.

While most Umbrella candidates have joined a co-ordination mechanism run by pan-democratic parties to avoid clashes between allies, six of them refused to do so and are running against the Democratic Party in areas where the party has had a close fight with the pro-establishment camp in previous elections.

The party has warned the clashes could split the vote share and hand victory to rivals.

Three of these six candidates come from Youngspiration. Its spokesman, Donald Chow Sai-kit, reiterated that their candidates did not know of the party's presence when they started campaigning.

"The co-ordination mechanism violates the spirit of a screening-free election," he said.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said he was not optimistic about the umbrella groups' chances of winning.

"The Occupy movement never got mainstream support in society - at most it got 40 per cent support in the polls," he said.

"But even if they don't win, I'd say their participation will help find out the latest public sentiment about pro-democracy forces, which could be a useful reference for pan-democrats to plan for the next year's Legislative Council elections."