Pan-democrats face an uphill battle in the 2015 district council elections as many people in the older age groups are showing an inclination to vote for pro-establishment candidates.
Unhappiness over the 79-day street occupation last year by democracy activists is a key factor weighing on the minds of the people aged 50 and above, a recent opinion poll suggests.
Seizing this fact, the Leung Chun-ying government has been paying special attention to the elders in a bid to cement their support .
The administration sees the backing of the elderly as key to not only the outcome of district council polls, but also to expanding the pro-establishment seats in the Legislative Council election next year and for giving Leung a chance to run for a second term in office in 2017.
The Leung camp has found cause for cheer as a survey conducted by U-Beat, a student publication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has pointed to growing support for establishment candidates.
According to the survey, around 10 percent of even those who claimed to have been pro-democracy camp supporters and aged over 50 said they would consider voting for pro-establishment candidates in the upcoming district election.
The survey result sends a message to pro-democracy politicians that their support may have eroded in the wake of the failed Occupy campaign.
U-Beat interviewed 300 people aged over 50 in North Point, Wong Tai Sin and Kwai Ching in a bid to assess how the older age groups view the Occupy campaign and to gauge their political stance in relation to the upcoming district council polls.
Overall, the results showed that around half the interviewees held a very negative impression over the Occupy campaign, while 30 percent remained neutral.
Forty percent of the respondents said they voted for non-establishment candidates in previous elections four years ago, but 10 percent of those people said they will not extend their support to pan-democrats this time.
Political observers say it’s not surprising that the city’s elders hold a negative view of the 2014 street occupation and other disturbances as they prefer social stability more than anything else.
With this mindset, the elderly had, in fact, provided a cushion for Leung and his allies to maintain a relatively tough stance toward the pro-democracy camp and the student leaders of the Occupy campaign.
The Occupy movement, it is now acknowledged, has widened the rifts in Hong Kong society, with the youth and the elderly mostly standing on opposite sides.
The youth wanted a proactive path to seek a more democratic framework for the 2017 chief executive election, while the elders took a mild approach toward Beijing’s proposal.
Among the senior citizens, even those who are in favor of greater freedoms mostly say that Hong Kong people should accept what is the table right now and gradually push for some concessions later.
As Hong Kong’s population ages, winning the support of the elderly has become critical for all politicians and the government.
Statistics have shown that people in the age group above 60 vote more actively in political elections in the city.
The number of registered voters above the age of 61 has surged to 981,489, making up for one-third of the total registered voter base. In comparison, registered voters aged 18 to 30 saw their number reach 580,000.
As the elderly have a higher voting rate than the average, it should create a favorable environment for the pro-establishment camp and the government.
From the government’s perspective, winning more support from the elderly is a better strategy than offering concessions to the youth with an improved electoral reform proposal.
That’s also the reason why the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong is aggressively expanding its local networks in the districts and calling on its supporters to voice out their anger over the 2014 Occupy campaign.
The Leung administration, meanwhile, has used the recent budget to dole out more carrots to the elderly and the underprivileged groups.
A two-month special payment under the Old Age Allowance and extension of public transport concessionary fare scheme are among the initiatives that have been announced.
Given the concerted efforts by the administration and pro-establishment groups to woo the critical voting bloc, democrats clearly have their work cut out to lay out their own case before the older voters.
Unless they come up with some inspired plans soon, they might find it difficult to recover lost ground.
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