Why the Nov 24 election has become all the more important

November 13, 2019 14:51
Anti-government protesters gather in the Central district in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Following the months-long unrest, Hongkongers will have a chance in November, through local body elections, to make their voice heard in a legal and peaceful way. Photo:

A record 4.1 million Hong Kong people have registered to vote in the District Council election to be held on November 24. It is vital for Hong Kong’s survival that the polls go ahead, even in the face of street protests and confrontations with police.

The elections are to be held in all 18 District Councils, returning 452 members from all directly elected constituencies, out of a total of 479 seats. During the nomination period from 4 to 17 October, the returning officers received a record 1,104 forms. It will be the first time in history that all 452 seats will be fought. In the last election in 2015, 68 seats were uncontested and the participation rate was 47.01 percent.

Traditionally, turnout has been low because of the limited powers of the Councils, including provision and use of public facilities, community activities, environment, recreation and culture. The colonial government introduced elections as a modest form of democracy. The next election for the 70 members of LegCo is due to September 2020.

Registration figures point to unprecedented enthusiasm of Hong Kong people to vote in a democratic election, even for posts with extremely limited powers. It is their first opportunity to express their views since the protests against the Extradition Bill began in June.

The reason why the election is so important is that the government and the protestors have reached an impasse. Neither side is willing to compromise; there are no negotiations between them. The street violence and confrontations between police and protestors are worsening every week. The everyday life of ordinary people is increasingly affected.

The election represents an opportunity for everyone to express their opinion in a legal and peaceful way.

On Tuesday, 125 leading Hong Kong people took a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper, calling on the government to ensure the election. They included John Tsang Chun-wah, former financial secretary: Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, former housing and transport secretary: and Allan Zeman, chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group.

“It cannot be cancelled due to the disruption caused by people with ulterior motives,” it said. “If so, it would cause even more instability and divisions within society. A peaceful, fair and just election carried out with the proper order is not only the right of the people but is also a peaceful and rational way to resolve effectively the divisions in society.

“The participation of citizens in the vote can enable the government to understand their views and wishes. The higher the rate of participation, the greater its significance. We call on the greatest number of people to take part, as an important step to resolve the difficulties Hong Kong is facing,” it said.

On the front page of Ming Pao today (Wednesday) was another advertisement by “a group of citizens who dearly love Hong Kong”. “Use your one vote against violence and save Hong Kong,” it said.

Most people expect the anti-government parties to win a large majority of seats. A poll from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme released on Tuesday showed Carrie Lam's approval rating had slumped below 20 percent, as her status as the most unpopular chief executive in the territory’s history fell to a record low.

If the opposition candidates score big, it would be a clear and indisputable expression of the will of the majority of the people. It would put Lam under overwhelming pressure to respond to the demands of the protestors. The simplest one is a demand for an independent inquiry into violence by all sides during the five months of protests.

On November 8, a panel of independent experts said in a report that the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) was unequipped to investigate the force’s handing of the protests.

It found "a shortfall in IPCC powers, capacity and independent investigative capability necessary to match the scale of events and the standards required of an international police watchdog operating in a city that values freedoms and rights.”

There is a “compelling case for a "deeper more comprehensive inquiry... by an independent body with requisite powers", it said. The authors are experts from Britain, New Zealand and Canada hired by Lam herself.

But it is not certain that the elections will take place at all. On Tuesday, the People’s Daily said an end to the protest violence was necessary first. “Only by supporting the police force to decisively put down the riots can Hong Kong return to the peace and hold fair elections, to help Hong Kong start again,” it said in an editorial.

Some pro-Beijing politicians have urged the government to postpone the election because of the violence.

So who has “ulterior motives”? The next 11 days will tell us.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.