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10 Dec 2019 11:18
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  •   Home > News > International

    Hong Kong's district council elections could send powerful message to China

    On Sunday the results of the election of these largely powerless officials will send a powerful message that could reshape the protest movement or draw the ire of an increasingly impatient China.


    From messy roads, to noisy neighbours — Hong Kong's district councillors have to deal with the most local issues you can imagine.

    But on Sunday the results of the election of these largely powerless officials will send a powerful message that could reshape the protest movement or draw the ire of an increasingly impatient China.

    A record 4.1 million Hongkongers have registered to vote in what will be the biggest test of public support for the protest movement.

    Will electors use these elections to send a political statement in support of pro-democracy candidates and against the Government? Or will they back the better resourced pro-establishment, pro-Beijing teams that hold a majority of seats?

    While the prevailing thinking is that most young people support the protesters and the pan-democratic camp, 29-year-old Calvin Sze To's electoral candidacy is challenging that.

    He's running as a candidate for the conservative, Beijing-aligned Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).

    It's cost him decade-long friendships and the support of some of his own family.

    Even his own girlfriend doesn't support his party.

    "It's a really hard moment right now but I hope that when everything's finished, when all the elections finish, all the violence finishes, all the protests finish, I hope everything will get back to normal," he said.

    He believes many young protesters do not understand the history of Hong Kong.

    "A lot of people maybe do not understand what China is about because Hong Kong was a place under British rule before 1997," he said.

    "They just only know a place that is Hong Kong, but they do not know what is a country.

    "We are a part of China."

    The journalism and communications graduate fears there may be violence surrounding the vote.

    "I am worried we don't have a fair election this time," he said.

    "Some of the people said they're worried how to vote, that they are afraid."

    Councillors do hold some sway in Hong Kong

    While the individual councillors may deal with hyper-local issues, they do have some say in Hong Kong.

    Whichever camp wins the most seats gets 117 seats on the committee of 1,200 that selects the city's Chief Executive.

    According to Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the public expectation is that pro-democratic parties will do well because of the unpopularity of the Government.

    However, as protests have become more violent and disruption to the daily life of Hongkongers grows, that result is not quite a foregone conclusion.

    "If the elections were conducted in late June or early July, it would be beyond any doubt a landslide victory for the democrats, just because at that time the movement was still peaceful and people were quite sympathetic with the movement," Mr Choy said.

    "In the last two weeks, the situation has become worse and worse and I think some middle voters, they may have second thoughts.

    "What are they looking for? Looking for improving their daily lives or showing support for protesters?"

    Elections to go ahead despite fears of violence

    The violent clashes — which have included the stabbing of a pro-Beijing politician, a siege at Polytechnic University, the release of footage showing police stomping on the head of a protester and another clip of activists setting a man on fire — have all triggered speculation as to whether the elections would even be allowed to go ahead.

    The Hong Kong Government has stepped up security — but it's not clear how protesters will respond.

    The last few days have been quiet.

    But Mr Choy said he had seen protesters in the leaderless movement discussing their options.

    "Some people will say that 'OK, we should let the election be conducted so we can send a strong message to the international political community'," he said.

    "But others try to say that 'OK, we are not looking for this, we are looking for more radical means to impose pressure on the Government' — [saying] 'elections are not our cup of tea'."

    Twenty-five-year-old entrepreneur Michael Pang is running for the pan-democratic camp in the upmarket Stanley and Shek O district.

    Despite receiving some graffiti on some of his signs, he believed that would not significantly affect the vote.

    "There must be some kind of negative impact, but I still have confidence in the Hong Kong people," he said.

    "They would know that the situation is not the cause of the problem, it's just a reaction to the issues raised by the Government."

    Despite being young, he believes everyone has a role to play.

    "I think elections are one of the ways I can voice my opinions and try to contribute to my home town," he said.

    "The middle voter still hasn't made up their mind. We have to work harder, try to convince them [to] come out and vote.

    "Every vote counts."

    Despite the chance of seeing many pro-Beijing candidates lose out, Mr Choy believes the mainland does want these elections to go ahead.

    "They know that if they try to suspend the elections there would be a strong negative message to the international community and they want to avoid that," he said.

    "On one hand if the democrats get a landslide victory you can say that public opinion is on the side of the democrats and you need to make some political solutions.

    "But on the other hand [China] may form the conclusion that they should use more harsh methods to solve the existing protest situation."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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