Your vote means more in this election

November 21, 2019 13:07
Anti-government demonstrators block a road near Polytechnic University on Nov. 18. Hong Kong’s upcoming district council elections have assumed added significance in the view of the months-long social unrest in the city. Photo: Reuters

Many people believe pan-democratic candidates will win big in Sunday’s district council election, with the vote seen as a sort of referendum on the Carrie Lam administration and its handling of the anti-government protests that have now entered their sixth month.

But how realistic are the expectations, and can we envisage a significant change in voting patterns compared to previous elections?

Occupy Central activist Benjamin Tai had once suggested that pan-democrats could win 80 percent of the seats, basing his optimism on the fact that as many as two million citizens poured onto the streets to denounce Lam's extradition bill.

The government has pulled the controversial legislation, but people are still unhappy as Lam has failed to meet the other demands, of which the main one is an independent inquiry into police conduct.

The recent strong-arm tactics and mass-arrests of university students have only fueled the public's resentment toward the police, who are now widely seen as out of control and a law unto themselves. 

Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions leader Alice Mak, an English Literature graduate from the Chinese University, for one, is said to have given a piece of her mind to Carrie Lam, as she fears Lam's incompetence will sink the pro-establishment camp in the upcoming local body elections.

Pan-democrats, no doubt, are better placed going into this election, given the dismal state of affairs in the city and the unprecedented crisis that Lam had triggered with her ill-advised extradition bill.

Months-long civil unrest, which has hit businesses such as retail, catering and tourism hard, has plunged Hong Kong into a recession, and there is no certainty when things will improve.

Amid a blame game, with the government and the protesters pointing fingers at each other for the chaos, the DC election has assumed added importance in terms of the potential message it will deliver from voters.      

Apart from being deemed a referendum on the Lam government, the vote is also a prelude to the bigger Legislative Council election next year, so a record turnout is expected this time.

Yet, the question remains: how different would it really be in terms of the final outcome and the scale of the mandate?

The pro-establishment camp says there is a vast silent majority among the voters that will stand with its candidates when it comes to the crunch.

Given the deep divisions in society, which have been further exacerbated by the ongoing protest movement, there is definitely an element of uncertainty as to the overall verdict from the voters.

Moreover, there are other factors to consider.  

Nearly 20 percent of the DC candidates are first-timers, meaning that it is likely that you may not have any idea as to who exactly you are voting for.

On the surface, 46 percent of the contestants are democrats, while 42 percent are from pro-establishment camp and 12 percent are independent candidates, according to local media analysis.

Traditionally pan-democrats have been 60-40 against pro-establishment in Hong Kong Island. Some observers believe the opposition camp's dominance could now spread to the New Territories and Kowloon, as the areas have large populations of young people and new voters.

While the youth will flock to opposition candidates, one can't say how the older citizens will vote.

Questions have been raised over the increasingly violent tactics being adopted by student protesters, who in the past two weeks had blocked two major highways and tunnels, causing transport disruptions for ordinary citizens and workers.

Repeated attacks and vandalism of MTR train station facilities have also become a talking point.

The pro-establishment camp will try to cash in on such concerns, arguing that only it can ensure stability and peace in Hong Kong so that people can get on with their daily lives. 

Meanwhile, we can expect the camp to persist with its well-honed freebies strategy, giving out snake soup, vegetarian banquets, mooncakes and dumplings in a bid to retain an edge among grey-haired voters.

With the election just days away, we can only wait and watch as to how things will pan out.

A survey has pointed out that 60 percent of the respondents did not want to give out their voting preference ahead of the polls.

It is also believed that there are quite a few who are yet to make up their mind on who they should go with, given the conflicting emotions and feelings over the current protest movement.

In the end, if the turnout is much larger than usual, the chances are more that pan-democrats will be the big beneficiaries.

Whatever lies before us, just bear this in mind: Remember to cast your vote. Your vote means more this time.

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EJ Insight writer