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Joshua Wong will run for election to Southern District Council. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Hong Kong protests: plan mulled to partially cancel district council elections if polling stations targeted, as Joshua Wong announces candidacy

  • Source says government looking into the possibility of cancelling polls in areas where serious protests are taking place
  • Wong announces candidacy in South Horizons West, on fifth anniversary of Occupy movement

District council elections in November could be partially cancelled if protesters attempt to disrupt polling stations, according to a plan being studied by the Hong Kong government.

Word of the potential move, revealed by a government source, came as Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the poster boy of the city’s pro-democracy movement, announced on Saturday that he planned to run in the election, which comes on the heels of the months-long unrest triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

“[The elections in] November are the first institutional method to show our landslide public discontent since the summer of discontent,” Wong, secretary general of youth-led group Demosisto, said on Saturday.

“I’m of the view that a high voting turnout is essential to put pressure on the Hong Kong government and President Xi Jinping.”

Trouble at polling stations could result in election cancellations. Photo: EPA

Candidates from the pro-democracy bloc were expected to enjoy the upper hand in the citywide polls by riding the wave of discontent, with Beijing-friendly lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen previously warning that her camp risked being punished by voters because of the fallout, and losing more than a third of its vote share.

Prompted by the social atmosphere, nearly 386,000 people have registered to vote in the past year – the most since at least 2003 – bringing the number of voters in the city to 4.12 million.

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The number of registered voters aged 18 to 35 recorded the biggest surge, jumping more than 12 per cent from last year. The rise in the number of young voters is seen as an advantage for the pro-democracy camp.

A government source told the Post on Saturday that the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau was looking into the possibility of cancelling the polls in areas where serious protests take place, to “ensure the fairness of the elections”.

“The polls will become unfair if a group of black-clad protesters in gas masks besiege a polling station where the pro-establishment candidate is likely to win, as some voters dare not come,” the source said. “We cannot preclude such a possibility.”

Under the proposal being studied, the election in the whole district could be scrapped if one or two constituencies are affected by protests.

A total of 452 seats from all 18 district councils – which are responsible for scrutinising government funding and coordinating community initiatives – are up for grabs in the November 25 vote.

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The source said postponing the whole vote was not a probable option as it was a legal requirement for the elections to be held by the end of this year and it was also unlikely for the social atmosphere to change in the space of weeks.

“It will be up to the Electoral Affairs Commission to decide whether to cancel the elections [on polling day] but the government will make a statement beforehand,” the source said. “We hope to weed out the protesters’ incentives to influence the polls.”

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan, who represents district councillors in the legislature, said it was understandable for the government to come up with a contingency plan, and that it required a thorough assessment.

Agnes Chow was previously barred from running in a Legco by-election. Photo: Bloomberg

But Wong accused the government of coming up with such actions out of fear the pro-democracy bloc would score a landslide victory in November.

He said there was no reason for the pro-democracy camp to disrupt polling stations as the government had suggested. “In fact, it appears more likely the Beijing-friendly camp will protest outside polling stations and wave their national flags,” Wong said.

Announcing his candidacy in the South Horizons West constituency in Southern district on the fifth anniversary of the start of the Occupy movement, Wong pledged to bring the fight for democracy into local communities.

Wong, 22, is throwing himself into the first election that has come around since he became old enough to run for office. He is expected to run against incumbent councillor Judy Chan Ka-pui, of the New People’s Party led by veteran politician Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

“In the past, at the mention of my name, the public might think of my international liaison work or acts of civil disobedience on the streets,” he said. “But I’ve always believed that working hard in the local community and defending our community is also crucial in our fight for and practice of democracy.”

Wong warned that any attempt by the government to disqualify him would face a local backlash and international condemnation.

He said he would not run as a member of Demosisto. His party colleague Agnes Chow Ting was barred from a Legislative Council by-election last year on the grounds that Demosisto advocated self-determination for the city.

“If the government were to crack down on us again, the resistance would only grow stronger,” Chow said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Plan considered to partially cancel district council polls if vote disrupted