The district council elections on Sunday can be considered a landmark in Hong Kong politics.
Several young, first-time candidates trounced political veterans in stunning upsets, signalling the people’s clamor for change and a generational transition in the local political scene.
One of the epic encounters played out in the Whampoa East constituency of Kowloon City District Council, where a young and charming lady named Yau Wai-ching challenged a battle-scarred politician, barrister and law professor, Priscilla Leung, and almost beat her — but not quite.
Leung managed to keep her seat by the skin of her teeth, a mere 300 votes.
But Yau had nothing to be ashamed of. Her valiant attempt earned the applause of both traditional and online media, which cited her zealous campaign and community work in the past 10 months that made her name a household word in the community.
It’s also presumed by some political pundits that much of her support came from young male voters who were obviously attracted by the pretty face of the 24-year-old corporate executive.
A voter from Whampoa East said he didn’t vote for the 55-year-old Leung because he could not recall having seen her in the community during the entire election campaign. Instead, he saw her campaign assistants handing out leaflets at the bus stop, which he didn’t bother to accept.
In contrast, he said, he witnessed the huge effort Yau invested in the campaign as she and Kwong Po-yin, a colleague from the Umbrella Movement’s Youngspiration group, stood in street corners almost daily for several months to inform the people of their election platform.
So it’s not true, according to this voter, that Yau has nothing going for her other than her pretty face. She has something in between her ears, too.
Leung, on the other hand, is known in the community not for the fact that she is an associate law professor at the City University — she hardly made use of her legal acumen in discussions both in the District Council and the Legislative Council — but for her campaign to kill rats in the district.
That’s right, rats. She has been so concerned about the rat problem that she even organized a campaign for the mass extermination of the pests in 2008.
A grateful community dubbed her “The Queen of Rats” as a way of thanking her for her contribution to public health and hygiene.
Incidentally, after the election, a van-hailing app called Call4Van announced on its social media page that trips to Whampoa East will be charged an additional HK$20 because of the rat infestation and eyesight problem of many residents in the area. It was just kidding, of course.
Meanwhile, a secondary school teacher named Yip Yat-che discussed in his blog the election results in Whampoa East.
In his tongue-in-cheek piece, he said that judging by the outcome of the race, many men in the constituency betrayed their wives, who specifically told them to vote for Leung.
Why Leung? Simply because they hated Yau, whose campaign posters and leaflets they found being kept by their husbands in drawers and posted on the walls of their homes.
For them, Yau was not fit to become their representative because she looked like she was competing in the Miss Hong Kong Pageant rather than running for the District Council.
They preferred someone who looked, shall we say, more mature like Leung.
But despite the strict instructions of the wives in Whampoa East, Yau almost won. Which goes to show that many of their seemingly dutiful husbands had betrayed them. Talking of rats.
Yip, of course, was just kidding, and no one was supposed to take him seriously.
However, Leung took issue with Yip. In an article to a newspaper, Leung assailed Yip and other detractors for personally attacking her, adding that it’s not fair to say that female voters in Whampoa East were jealous of Yau.
Leung stressed that voters living in her constituency are mostly highly educated professionals and are not that easy to be lured by “a good-looking face”.
She said Yip insulted all other female candidates and voters.
“One of the elements of democracy is to respect the election results,” Leung wrote. “However, these people making such comments verbally support democracy, support the Occupy Central campaign and demand genuine universal suffrage.
“But you guys have achieved nothing. If all you care about is to insult and try to isolate those who hold a different political view, then democracy in Hong Kong will be far, far away from us.”
Leung was obviously angered by the comments spreading in the virtual world against her, and she responded accordingly.
But perhaps it would be better to sit back, hold her temper and try to assess why she failed to get the trust and support of those who voted for her adversary.
Then she will find out that most of the online comments about her had nothing to do about a candidate’s face or age, but about the perception that she is not doing enough for the community, as evidenced by the fact that, despite her advocacy against pests, rat infestation is still an issue in Whampoa East.
On the other hand, Yau, during the campaign, tried hard to understand the community and their needs. As much as it’s wrong to say that those who voted for Leung were jealous of her younger rival, it’s also unfair to say that those who supported Yau did so because of her pretty face.
In fact, it’s amazing that a young, inexperienced candidate who doesn’t have the support of the establishment managed a decent showing.
Or perhaps that’s the real reason why Yau was able to secure more than 2,000 votes. The voters wanted to support someone who depended on her own resources and stood her ground in the face of a formidable election machinery being controlled from the north.
What is clear is that voters, not only in Whampoa East but all across the territory, want change.
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