The District Council elections on Nov. 22 will be the first general polls after last year’s Umbrella Movement.
Many young people who joined the civil disobedience campaign had pledged to carry the pro-democracy message of the protest movement to the local communities as part of their efforts to gain more supporters in their campaign for genuine universal suffrage.
However, the democrats seem to have forgotten one important matter regarding their campaign: they have to field candidates in order to win the election.
As a result, on the eve of the deadline for the filing of candidacies on Thursday, more than a hundred pro-Beijing candidates remained unchallenged for the District Council seats. They will automatically win the seats in the absence of other contenders.
Around 90 constituencies received only one candidate application for the election. This means that the pro-Beijing camp will take control of around 20 percent of the seats without any contest.
The number of uncontested seats could be much higher than in previous elections. Only 41 seats were uncontested in 2007, and 76 seats in 2011.
Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, DAB legislator Christopher Chung Shu-kun and former lawmaker Choy So-yuk are expected to win their District Council seats automatically.
All in all, the pro-Beijing party could be assured of 40 seats even before the elections, if no other candidates challenge them.
Other pro-establishment parties such as the New People’s Party, Liberal Party and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions will also win seats by default.
On the other hand, pan-democrats are not benefiting from such a political bonanza. Almost all of their candidates are facing a challenge from the pro-Beijing camp, or from young politicians freshly minted from the Occupy campaign.
It certainly is going to be a tough job for pan-democrats to maintain their number of seats in the District Councils.
Some political pundits blame the new record of uncontested seats on the abolition of appointed seats starting from the upcoming term.
But that’s not an excuse for democrats to just leave those communities in the hands of pro-Beijing politicians for the next four years and let them enjoy an uncontested influence over the formulation of government policies.
It may be that the democrats lack the wherewithal to challenge all the seats, given that Beijing is deploying massive resources to support their comrades in the grassroots battles.
For example, the Liaison Office of the Central Government in Hong Kong is known to have a task force to deal with local district affairs. The task force assists pro-Beijing district councillors in the matter of local district development as well as in coordinating with merchants in providing food and other subsidies to local residents.
And so it is common to see long queues outside the offices of pro-Beijing district councillors during Lunar New Year and other festivals as the councillors dole out rice, canned goods and other gifts to local residents.
Nothing wrong with that, as those freebies are given beyond the election period; they won’t be treated as bribes but a form of community service to the public. Besides, the people expect to receive those freebies.
Those freebies allow the pro-Beijing camp to gain enormous goodwill among the people and provide them with the opportunity to build their voters’ data base, which will come in handy when the next election comes.
Such data base worked well in previous elections and successfully helped the pro-Beijing camp to boost the number of their seats in District Councils and the Legislative Council.
Apart from the traditional pro-Beijing parties, this year’s elections will see the emergence of young, “independent” candidates. But it’s easy to discern their true political colors; many of these candidates are actually members or officials of local pro-Beijing associations.
These candidates will further boost the influence of the pro-Beijing camp in the local communities.
The odds may be against the pro-democratic camp, but that is no reason for them to hand over the District Council seats to the establishment without a fight.
The Democratic Party, which claims to be the biggest party in the opposition camp, will only field 94 candidates in the November polls, down from 132 in the 2011 elections. At present, it has 44 council representatives.
What is the party’s strategy in the District Council elections? Indeed, the party has legislative councillors in all the five geographical constituencies, and they have sufficient local supporters to make a good showing in the November elections.
But it seems that the party’s leadership is afraid of losing more seats in the upcoming elections, and has decided to scale down their list of candidates.
By and large, the Democratic Party is the opposition group that has the organization and resources to challenge the pro-Beijing DAB in the local contests.
But because of their soft stance toward Beijing, they have disappointed some pro-democracy groups such as the localists. And in the November polls, those localist groups will be challenging not the pro-Beijing camp but their pan-democrat counterparts.
Such a strange strategy will not benefit the opposition camp but help pro-Beijing politicians to expand their sphere of influence without any competition.
Civic Passion, a localist group, has announced it will field six members in the District Council elections. They will face Democratic Party candidates in five of the six districts.
One arena that will be closely watched is the Lok Tsui constituency in Tuen Mun, where Cheng Chung-tai, a teaching fellow at Polytechnic University, will challenge Democratic Party district councillor and lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan.
And so the democrats will find themselves having to battle it out with pro-Beijing, localist and supposedly independent candidates in the upcoming polls, while leaving around 20 percent of the District Council seats to the pro-establishment camp without any contest.
Should the pan-democrats suffer a drubbing in the Nov. 22 exercise, they would most probably assign the blame to Beijing’s intervention in local affairs. But it is clear, even before the election day comes, that they have no one to blame but themselves.
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