Hong Kong District Elections a Bellwether for Political Issues

By NTD Newsroom

In a break from violent clashes, Hong Kongers have the chance to make their voices heard another way—through local elections this weekend.

This Sunday brings Hong Kong’s highly anticipated district council elections.

There are 479 district council members.  Of these, 452 seats are directly elected by the people, all of which are up for a vote.

However, 18 district councils have very little direct influence on the city’s affairs. They make up only about 6 percent of the legislative council, the city’s parliament.

“The district councils are advisory bodies without power,” political commentator Joseph Cheng said.

The elections are still significant though. After five months of intense protests against Beijing’s growing influence in the region, voters are expected to show their support through votes for one of two camps—the pro-democracy protesters or the Chinese Communist Party.

“Are they in support of the Chinese Communist Party, or in support of the resistance movement?” former Hong Kong legislative council member Leung Kwok-Hung asked.

One of the protesters’ demands is universal suffrage—a system where everyone gets a vote and everyone’s vote is equal. This was guaranteed when the U.K. handed the region back to China in 1997.

But an election committee of mostly pro-beijing elites still decide who can run for the city’s highest office, the chief executive and about half of the legislative council.

“We were promised universal suffrage in choosing our chief executive and all members of the legislature,” Alan Leong, chairman of the Hong Kong Civic Party, said. “But so far, we haven’t had that yet.”

However, the district council elections are decided, more or less, via universal suffrage. And because of this, people see this year’s elections as an indicator of where the Hong Kong people stand on the key issues driving the protests.

“The pro-democracy camp certainly wants the results to demonstrate that its cause enjoys the support of the people,” Joseph Cheng said.

Protesters have been encouraged not to organize any activities for the weekend and to get out and vote instead. Police have said that all members of their 31,000 strong force will be on duty on Sunday.

Reporting by Paul Greaney, Ntd News, Hong Kong