26 October 2016
The fact that political rookies Kwong Po-yin and Yau Wai-ching blew everybody away in the recent District Council elections shows that public sentiment has changed drastically after last year's protests. Photo: HKEJ
The fact that political rookies Kwong Po-yin and Yau Wai-ching blew everybody away in the recent District Council elections shows that public sentiment has changed drastically after last year's protests. Photo: HKEJ

What the political landscape might be like in 2016

It’s time to take stock of the first major election in the post-Occupy Central movement era.

There are three things worth discussing for some clues to the political landscape in 2016.

First is the Whampoa East and Whampoa West constituencies in Kowloon City.

The results in these typically conservative districts reflect the changing political atmosphere and public sentiment in the wake of the civil disobedience movement.

A newly founded pro-democracy organization, “Youngspiration”, sent two young first-time female candidates, also dubbed “paratroopers”, to run against two pro-establishment incumbents, Lau Wei-wing in Whampoa West and Priscilla Leung in Whampoa East. Leung is also a legislative councilor.

The two rookies, widely dismissed as long shots before the election, blew their opponents away, each getting more than 2,000 votes.

In Whampoa West, Kwong Po-yin, a 29-year-old woman with zero experience in politics and no local connections, pulled off a major upset with a razor-thin victory over incumbent Lau Wei-wing. The difference was just 39 votes.

In a typical David vs. Goliath race, Lau would not be easy to beat.

He was a long-serving district councilor and former chairman of the Kowloon City District Council who had strong local connections and a loyal support base.

Also, he had the blessing of Beijing’s Liaison Office.

He would never have imagined that a newcomer he had barely heard of would defeat him.

In Whampoa East, another young rookie, 24-year-old Yau Wai-ching, took on incumbent Priscilla Leung.

To everybody’s surprise, Yau was neck-and-neck with Leung throughout the voting, with Leung barely able to scrape by.

The fact that two rookies who weren’t even known by voters in their constituencies several months ago got so much support and put up such a good fight against their much stronger adversaries indicates the remarkable influence of first-time young voters.

Their performances showed that older voters in traditionally conservative middle-class neighborhoods such as Whampoa Garden have been awakened by he movement and were eager to vote for change.

The election results in Whampoa overturned the conventional thinking that the middle class is largely apathetic to politics and that political issues are irrelevant at the community level.

More middle-aged and affluent voters are beginning to realize that the District Council does more than deal with potholes, noise pollution or garbage.

Although fruitless in the end, the protest movement raised the political awareness of people from all walks of life. There’s no turning back.

Lawmaker Regina Ip, chairperson of the New People’s Party, acknowledged that the protest movement changed the political atmosphere.

She said the high turnout and the outcome of voting cannot be attributed entirely to the successful mobilization of young voters.

Older, well-educated voters disenchanted with the status quo wanted to shake things up, too.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government underestimated the impact of the movement on the electorate.

The success of the “paratroopers” could inspire more young people, especially student leaders, to run for the Legislative Council next year.

The second thing worth looking at about this election is the fact that the Neo Democrats, a small breakaway faction from Democratic Party with a moderate pro-nativist stance, won a landslide victory by sending 16 candidates to run and getting 15 seats.

By contrast, candidates from the radical indigenous faction all lost, suggesting that moderate nativism could be front and center of local politics in the days ahead.

Major pan-democratic parties could be drawn to the nativist theme because it now resonates with voters.

And finally, the election was a setback for the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).

DAB is down to 119 seats from 136 and two of its heavyweights, Christopher Chung and Elizabeth Quat Pei-fan, failed to get re-elected.

The setback is reminiscent of the DAB’s showing in the 2003 district elections when public opinion turned against it in the wake of the July 1 million-strong march.

Lastly, the election results highlight a pattern — pro-Beijing candidates tend to suffer in elections that are preceded by major protests.

With the Legco election only months away, Beijing and pro-establishment candidates will be careful not to provoke the voters.

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