21 October 2016
District council polls will mark the first key political event in Hong Kong since the Occupy movement last year and the rejection of the government's electoral reform package earlier this year. Photo: HKEJ
District council polls will mark the first key political event in Hong Kong since the Occupy movement last year and the rejection of the government's electoral reform package earlier this year. Photo: HKEJ

Why it’s important to come out and vote in Sunday’s elections

After months of preparations, the district council elections are now on our doorstep.

On Sunday, Hongkongers will be asked to choose 431 representatives for 18 district councils, which are consultative bodies on district administration and affairs.

The elections for the local bodies may pale in significance compared to the legislative council polls due next year, but still their importance shouldn’t be underestimated. 

What we shouldn’t forget is that the Sunday vote will mark the city’s first key political event after the 2014 Occupy protests and the failure of the government’s electoral reform package earlier this year.

Things have been quite calm in the run-up to the polls as the Leung Chun-ying administration has done its best to rein in people’s passions and prevent confrontations between pro-Beijing groups and pan-democrats.

The calm atmosphere, meanwhile, has meant that both camps are not sure whether their seat tally will match previous expectations.

Amid this situation, they have called on their supporters to come out in large numbers and vote on Sunday, at one of the 363 designated polling stations in the 18 districts.   

As we saw in the past, Beijing loyalists have been playing the election game much better than the democrats. The pro-establishment candidates also have better resources due to the backing of business tycoons, most of whom are, as usual, keen to be on the right side of Beijing.

Some candidates from the pro-Beijing camp are already predicting how many votes they will win in their constituencies. The confidence stems from the information they gleaned via local campaigns, as well as signatures collected during anti-Occupy campaign last year.

During the Occupy movement, the pro-Beijing camp set up hundreds of booths on the streets to get the public to sign up on a petition against the civil disobedience moves of the democracy activists.

While the signatures didn’t have anything do to with elections, the establishment groups provided forms in the stalls to help people with their voter registrations. By studying the information collected through the forms, the groups have been able to organize their electoral campaigns better.

In some New Territories districts, elderly residents have been eager to vote as a group, offering a chance to pro-Beijing candidates to approach them.

At the same time, the establishment camp wouldn’t want the overall voter turnout in the election to be extraordinarily high.

History has shown that the higher the turnout rate, the more will be the number of seats that democrats can secure. The reason is simple: supporters of the democrats cast their votes on their free will, rather than being pushed by political parties.

Democrats have been voicing out their difficulties in the election campaign as pro-Beijing candidates have been raising questions over the 2014 Occupy campaign.

The debate has led to the district election being seen as a sort of referendum on Hong Kong’s political path.

That is why supporters of the democratic camp cannot afford to sit out the election, even though it pertains to just advisory bodies for district affairs.

Let’s take a look at how democrats fared in the previous district council elections in 2011, compared with the votes the camp secured in the Legislative Council a year later.

The number of votes democrats garnered in the district council election was far behind the votes they got in the 2012 LegCo polls.

There was a gap of between 75,000 votes and 165,000 votes in the votes secured by the democrats, based on the LegCo election’s five geographical constituencies, while the difference for pro-Beijing camp was much narrower at around 40,000 votes.

That shows that democrat supporters were less interested in participating in the district council polls, apparently due to the view that broader political issues were not at stake in the election.

Now, if this attitude doesn’t change it will only give a chance to Beijing loyalists to further dominate community affairs and extend their influence.

Hence, it is important for all citizens to come out and cast their votes and ensure that their voices are heard by the government, rather than settle for politicians they don’t really support.

People should study the candidates’ performance and speeches and reject undeserving contenders. There are some candidates who don’t even know their constituencies properly. 

Overall, the public should bear in mind that democracy will take root only if everyone exercises their right.

A survey has just shown that more people plan to cast their votes in this election compared to the previous such exercise in 2011. Let’s just hope that it turns out true.

Political apathy, for sure, is no longer an option.

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EJ Insight writer

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