Election time. Welcome to District Council world

Hong Kong’s 18 District Councils are not exactly a model of democratic accountability. They are a branch of the Home Affairs Bureau with no power to pass laws or raise revenue, and the coming poll is the first in which all members will be directly elected. But when it comes to community politics they are the only game in town.

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Historically, they grew out of the neighbourhood support groups known as kaifong associations (街坊會) that the British formed back in 1949 (this wiki traces their tortuous history).

Their original role was as a bridge between the government and the governed, and that is pretty much their role today. They are dominated by the DAB, other pro-government parties and, in the islands, the Heung Yee Kuk, the rural umbrella body. According to the pundits, the weight of resources at the government parties’ disposal means that they will be even more dominant after the November 22 poll.

For all that, the District Council is the only place where local issues can be raised and managed. Concerns are put forward and government bureaucrats are grilled on problems such as taxis, healthcare and broadband. Yes, on most occasions the interests of those wishing to pour concrete are given more weight than, say, those seeking to protect dolphins but at least we see opinion reflected and topics debated.

They are also a handy source of information. The English pages on the Islands District Council provide records of council meetings as well as standing committees on topics such as Traffic and Transport and Tourism Agriculture Fisheries and Environmental Hygiene. The site has plenty of government papers on the nitty gritty of local services.

Aside from those worthy matters, the council has other preoccupations, as the list of ad hoc committees suggests. One was dedicated to “concern” over the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator – concern that was presumably allayed because almost the entire council voted for it. Another committee aimed at promoting the Basic Law was dissolved in June 2014, just as the Basic Law was being interpreted to deny direct elections. There was also a committee on “Signature Projects.” Every district in the SAR had one of these after the government dumped HK$100 million on each and asked them to spend it on a folly an item that would distinguish the area. Or attract the interest of the ICAC.

So, welcome to District Council world.

The Islands District is far and away the biggest district by area, and far and away the biggest part of Islands District is South Lantau. It’s so big it’s in fact called ‘Lantau’, covering all of the island west of Discovery Bay except for Tung Chung, and also taking in Shek Kwu Chau and the Sokos. It’s the largest electoral district of any kind in Hong Kong. Take a bow.

The current Lantau representative, Rainbow Wong, a reliable supporter of the government and developers, is retiring. His claim to fame was he went to the last election claiming to oppose the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator and then voted for it anyway.

Four candidates are vying to replace him, so the election is not without interest. In order of appearance on the ballot they are:

Randy Yu, 53 余漢坤

Lau King Cheung, 32 劉敬彰

Yuen Yu Wah, 59 袁玉華

Clara Tam, 46 譚秀娥

I have reached out to them and hope to publish a short Q&A with each of them over the next week. Stand by.

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