China’s top leadership has urged the Hong Kong government to hold district council elections as scheduled on Sunday despite a likely scenario of the pro-Beijing camp getting a drubbing from voters, sources have told the Post.
Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, Hong Kong’s secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, said on Wednesday the government really hoped to conduct the elections smoothly and called on protesters to respect the right of the city’s residents to vote.
In a closed-door meeting on November 15 in Shenzhen, Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng asked all relevant departments involved in handling Hong Kong affairs to do their best to ensure the district polls could be carried out, according to sources.
Han, who chairs the Communist Party’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs central coordination group, is China’s point man on matters in the two cities.
A Guangdong-based source who was briefed about the meeting said Beijing’s top leadership told attendees to work together and “try our best not to delay or cancel”.
Another Hong Kong-based official source said “the mood at the meeting was overall very supportive of the Hong Kong government’s work to conduct the elections”.
He said those present at the session included top mainland ministers from national security, public security and officials from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, as well as the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.
A source familiar with the local government’s preparation for the elections also told the Post that in an unprecedented move, the Registration and Electoral Office informed presiding officers of all 620 polling stations citywide that they could claim up to HK$800 for staying in hotels near their respective stations on Saturday night to ensure they were able to reach their designated points by 6.30am the next morning.
The office is responsible for conducting elections in Hong Kong.
“It shows the government’s determination to hold the elections as scheduled,” the source said.
Another source said the administration had never wavered on its stance on the need to press on with the polls as scheduled. “Obviously the Hong Kong government’s position has the central government’s blessings.”
Li Xiaobing, an expert on Beijing’s policies on Hong Kong at Nankai University in Tianjin, said the central government was aware that the pro-establishment camp was facing a tough battle, but still believed that an election as scheduled was the best option or it “would create a bigger mess in the next few years”.
“Failure to hold the elections as scheduled will disrupt other elections in Hong Kong in the next two or three years. That will be very messy,” he said.
Li said he believed that the coming elections “can also be a good chance for the pro-establishment camp to experience a tough fight in which they are the underdog”.
“That’s a good way to toughen the team and see who are the true resilient fighters with solid support on the ground,” he said.
Gu Su, a professor of philosophy and law at Nanjing University, said the leadership accepted the risks of the pro-Beijing camp facing massive losses. “They are psychologically prepared for headwinds to the pro-establishment camp,” he said.
The camp has been under severe pressure ever since it supported the now-withdrawn extradition bill that sparked the current social unrest. Even though it backed the government on the eventual expunging of the legislation, it has not recovered its fortunes as the anti-government protests continued unabated over the past five months.
Gu said: “This is not the first time the pro-establishment camp suffered a major defeat in district council elections.”
In 2003, district council elections were held four months after 500,000 people took to the streets to oppose the proposed national security legislation, more popularly named the Article 23 bill. In that round, the pro-establishment parties suffered a humiliating defeat.
Hong Kong’s festering social unrest has entered its 24th week with no end in sight and the city remains on edge following a week of especially violent protests that saw several campuses transformed into battlefields as protesters churned out petrol bombs and shot flaming arrows while police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen, who is seeking re-election as a district councillor in Wai Ying constituency in Tsing Yi, said she hoped the elections could be held as scheduled.
“We have been facing huge difficulties during the election campaign. We really don’t want the elections to be postponed,” she said.
Mak, whose district offices were attacked several times in recent months, urged the government to ensure a safe environment for the elections.
Local authorities formed a crisis management committee last month to determine the fate of the polls. Headed by Electoral Affairs Commission chairman Barnabas Fung Wah, the team would recommend to the chief executive that the polls be postponed if affected by a “riot, open violence or any danger to public health or safety”.
Patrick Nip, a member of the committee, said the group held a meeting on Wednesday and would draw up contingency plans for the day.
The government previously told lawmakers that if the election was postponed, it would be moved to the following Sunday. Under the District Councils Ordinance, the polls can only be postponed for 14 days.
The commission is empowered to postpone elections or vote counting for a week should there be any violence affecting the safety of voters that could not be resolved with a 90-minute suspension.
“The government very much hopes to hold the elections as scheduled on Sunday,” Nip said. “All residents have the responsibility to ensure this can be conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
“We don’t want to postpone the elections unless we are really forced to do so,” he added.
A full-page advertisement calling on Hong Kong people to “use the ballots in your hands and don’t let Hong Kong perish because of violence”, was published on the front pages of seven Chinese-language newspapers on Wednesday.
The ad was placed by “a group of residents who love Hong Kong”.
In a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday night, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying suggested there appeared to be a split in the movement as peaceful demonstrators were dispensing with radical protesters, treating them as disposable allies.
“Peaceful demonstrators and the people in command behind the scene have publicly called for a stop to violent actions to make way for district council elections. This deals a serious blow to the morale of radical protesters,” he wrote.
Protesters meanwhile seem to be urging one another to vote. The Reddit-like site LIHKG that acts as a virtual messaging board has been carrying posters on how one must vote early, encourage family members to go to the polls, and not wear black and surgical masks.
Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority.