Record turnout for Hong Kong's district council elections; two pan-democratic big guns out, three new pro-Occupy candidates win
1.36 million people cast ballots in district polls, with results likely to reflect whether Occupy had lasting impact on city's political landscape
Voters turned out in record numbers in Sunday's District Council elections, scoring a historic turnout rate of 47 per cent and early results saw two veteran pro-democracy lawmakers defeated and at least three candidates inspired by last year's Occupy protests scored unexpected victories.
Of the 3.12 million eligible to vote in the contested constituencies, some 47 per cent cast their ballots by the time voting closed at 10.30 pm. The turnout surpassed the previous record of 44 per cent who voted in the district council elections of 2003, held after a 500,000-strong anti-government march that year.
In early results that came in before 1.30 am, two pro-democracy super seat lawmakers Albert Ho Chun-yan and Frederick Fung Kin-kee were unseated by newcomers, while another pro-democracy figure James To Kun-sun kept his seat and became the only one of the three pro-democracy super seat lawmakers to be able to seek a re-election in the same Legco sector next year.
Fung won 2,432 votes, 99 short of won by his challenger, 25-year-old Chan Wing-yan, who is linked to both the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Federation of Trade Unions.
Fung’s former ally Eric Wong Chung-ki, who also stood against him in the same constituency, won 215 votes.
Fung has demanded a re-count, while Ho admitted defeat before an official announcement.
At least three candidates inspired by the Umbrella Movement protests last year scored unexpected success.
One of them, Chui Chi-kin, beat pro-Beijing lawmaker Christopher Chung Shu-kun, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Chui won 2,017 votes, against Chung who got 1,829 votes.
Chung’s party fellow and lawmaker Elizabeth Quat also lost her district council seat.
Wong Chi-ken, another of the dozens of 'Umbrella soldiers', won 1,729 votes against Fung Kam-yuen, the incumbent councillor at Lok Wah North, who scored 1,246 votes.
Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying, who ran in Tai Hang constituency, won 1,398 votes, 250 more votes than Gigi Wong Ching-chi of the New People’s Party.
While the district polls are considered to be more about livelihood issues than politics, observers say the results, when they are finally tallied in the early hours of Monday, are expected to indicate whether last year's Occupy movement had any impact on the city's political landscape.
The victory of the three gave early indications as to the answer.
Analysts also said the vote could determine whether pan-democrats who had supported the Occupy movement would gain from any festering anti-government sentiment or would be punished by voters unhappy with the disruptions to their lives caused by the 79-day protests last year.
A total of 867 candidates contested 363 constituencies, leaving 68 seats uncontested. Nearly 50 candidates who took part in Occupy ran in the elections.
Some voters said the candidates' political stance was not a crucial deciding factor. Their plans on livelihood issues mattered far more.
In Kwun Lung constituency in Central and Western, voter K.C. Chan said: "I support the Occupy movement but I am not supporting a candidate because he took part in it."
Whether pan-democrats can keep three out of the five so-called "super seats" in next year's Legco election will hinge on the results of the district polls. A district council seat is an entry ticket to the race for the super seats.
Veteran pan-democratic lawmakers Frederick Fung-kin-kee and Albert Ho Chun-yan were fighting uphill battles to retain their district council seats in Sham Shui Po and Tuen Mun. Campaigning in their constituencies was among the fiercest yesterday, with repeated booing and shouting matches.
Exit poll results released by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, sponsored by i-Cable, had showed Fung and Ho's constituencies and that of another pan-democrat heavyweight, James To Kun-sun, were too close to call.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said more voters turned out because people who were for or against the Occupy protests wanted to make their voices heard in the wake of the movement that had polarised the community.
"Pan-democrats should not be over-optimistic about the higher turnout, or take it for granted that their candidates would benefit from it," he said.
Ma Ngok, another political scientist from Chinese University, believed the failed political reform and the controversy over the HKU council's rejection of the appointment of liberal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun as a pro-vice-chancellor might encourage more people to vote.
After casting his ballot yesterday morning, Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying said the government attached great importance to the function of district councils as they played an important role in management of district-level issues.
Meanwhile, residents of an elderly centre in Hung Hom were ferried by "volunteers" to the voting station.
Some said they would vote according to the volunteers' advice, sparking concerns they were being manipulated.
More updates to follow.