Hong Kong political novices thrust into office on Beijing backlash


HONG KONG - A colorful cast of political novices who won Hong Kong's local elections are attending cramming courses and trading tips on how to take the fight to the city's pro-Beijing establishment in their own neighborhoods.

Last month's landslide victory for the city's pro-democracy camp was a clarion call for change after six months of huge and increasingly violent protests against the government of Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam.

The city's district councils are the only elections in which Hong Kongers can vote for every seat -- and they did so in record numbers this year.

Pro-democracy candidates won 392 of 452 races, seizing all but one of the city's 18 districts during a poll that was widely seen as a barometer of seething public anger towards Beijing's rule.

Yet many of those elected openly admit they are political newcomers who would never have dreamed of running had Beijing and Lam not spent months digging in against the protests.

"I thought I would lose. To be honest, I don't have enough experience," said Chan Tsz-wai, a 26-year-old convenience store worker who wrote his manifesto by hand.

He managed to unseat a rising star of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment -- the city's largest and wealthiest pro-Beijing party -- in Yau Tsim Mong, a district that has seen some of the fiercest battles between protesters and riot police.

"We are all fumbling our way across the river," added Richard Chan, a 47-year-old funeral home director, who won in his district of Tai Po.

He recently attended a series of cramming courses for new councilors, detailing duties such as as balancing the books, running public meetings and how to hire assistants.

Hong Kong's district councils deal with bread and butter issues such as bus timetables and garbage collections.

But pro-democracy candidates are strategizing on how to maximize their influence where they can.

Chan Tsz-wai plans to focus on pursuing police and local authorities over 31 August, a night when police were filmed beating demonstrators inside the Prince Edward subway station.

"I hope we can investigate this on a district level," he said. "I understand that the power of district council is very weak, but I will do my best."

Richard Chan is currently getting a team together to scrutinize a large housing project with one of the city's biggest property developers.

Sky high housing costs fuel Hong Kong's political crisis with public anger palpable over the pro-Beijing establishment's cozy links with tycoons.

"What most needs to be changed is the cronyism," he said.

Jocelyn Chau, a former customer manager in a bank, was launched from obscurity to eventual political office when she live-streamed her arrest earlier in the year.

The 23-year-old won a seat in North Point, an area that has a long history of support for the pro-Beijing establishment.

She plans to focus on services for young people, a demographic that she said was often ignored by the pro-Beijing parties and have formed the backbone of this year's protests.

"I will continue to look after the needs of the elderly while allocating more resources to cater the young people and families in my communities," she said. -AFP