Pan-democrats are coalescing around the lead-in-water crisis and reaching out to affected residents.
On Monday, district councilor Andrew Wan, vice chairman of the Democratic Party, led a group of residents of Kwai Luen Estate, a public housing complex caught up in the contamination scandal, to urge authorities to speak up for them.
Also, the party is planning an alliance with residents to fight for compensation and force the contractor to replace all water pipes.
It’s likely party leaders are working with residents of Kai Ching Estate, the first to be reported to have lead-contaminated water supply, and other housing projects in a similar situation.
All this is happening while pan-democrats are gearing up for the district council elections in November in which they hope to wrest some seats from the pro-Beijing camp, the perennial winner.
Pan-democrats are doing their outreach at the risk of being seen as exploiting a public health crisis.
Is it worth it?
The answer is a matter of opinion, but the fact is this crisis is probably the pan-democrats’ best chance to connect to voters by highlighting an issue close to home.
Pro-Beijing politicians, notably the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), have been successful in their own community outreach, derided by critics as “snake, vegetarian, cake and dumpling”.
For the most part, the strategy consists of sweeteners such as rice, moon cakes and tours to scenic spots, creating a sense of engagement with local communities.
It has worked quite well for DAB.
In the 2011 district elections, it won 132 of 507 seats, making it Hong Kong’s largest political force at the local level.
By contrast, the Democratic Party bagged 44 seats, down from 59 in 2007 and 93 in 2004.
Altogether, pan-democrats control no more than 103 seats in the present district council composition.
The DAB’s success in district elections is a no-brainer.
It spends public money to please its supporters and win new friends.
And by virtue of their overwhelming majority in the council, DAB and its pro-Beijing allies are able to push local laws to their heart’s content.
Take the controversial Quarry Bay rain shelter, for instance.
The project was mooted by the local council only to end up being a costly and useless enterprise.
If anything, it shows that the politicians who backed it have no real understanding of their constituents’ needs. Politics drove it, not practical considerations.
Which is why the pan-democrats’ efforts to bring up the water contamination crisis as an election issue does not look all that opportunistic.
If they can show sincerity now — and after they’re returned by their constituents — they will be viewed more favorably in hindsight.
It’s a delicate balancing act. The pan-democrats have to figure out how to get across to the voters on a tightrope.
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