Former allies square up for final elections

Democrats fight off Pro-Peking candidates, writes Stephen Vines in Hong Kong

There is no clearer sign that Hong Kong politics has come of age than the battle for a municipal council seat in the grimy industrial district of Kwun Tong.

The prime contestants are 81-year-old Elsie Tu and 63-year-old Szeto Wah. Mrs Tu, previously known as Elsie Elliot, has been a pugnacious civil-rights fighter for four decades. Mr Szeto, a charismatic speaker, has dedicated his life to politics, spending a great deal of it fighting for democracy in China.

In the days when the colonial government ruled without much reference to public opinion, aside from the views of business leaders, Mrs Tu and Mr Szeto both incurred the wrath of the establishment.

Nowadays, Mrs Tu, who was born in Newcastle, is no less suspicious of the British administration than Mr Szeto, but has become one of China's hand-picked advisers on Hong Kong affairs, while Mr Szeto has been branded as one of Peking's most hated enemies in the territory.

The municipal elections next month are theoretically about who is best at supervising rubbish collection, the organisation of public parks and other activities run by the two councils. In practice, they are a test- run for the pro-democracy and pro-Peking forces for the bigger battle in September's Legislative Council elections.

Yesterday Zhang Junsheng, one of China's unofficial representatives in Hong Kong, called for "patriotic" Hong Kongers to stand in the municipal and legislative elections, even though Peking says it will dismantle both bodies when it takes over the territory from Britain in 1997.

Old alliances and friendships have been submerged in the political atmosphere. Mrs Tu's apparent, although fiercely denied, progress in the direction of the pro-Peking camp has left her vulnerable to opposition from the pro-democracy activists for the first time in her long political career.

Mr Szeto is one of the leaders of the Democratic Party, by far the largest and most successful of Hong Kong's new political parties. It is fielding 33 candidates in the municipal elections on 5 March.

The main opposition to the Democratic Party comes from the even newer Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), which is supporting Mrs Tu. The DAB is in effect Peking's chosen party, maintaining a sometimes independent, but basically loyal line of support for the Chinese government. The Communist Party, most of whose members are in the DAB, maintains a clandestine existence. Astonishingly, in a town so dominated by money- making and the business community, the Liberal Party, the only real business- oriented party, is something of a shambles. It has managed to muster only three candidates to fight these elections.

The core of the party is composed of politicians appointed to the legislative and other councils by the former Governor, Lord Wilson. They have been making extraordinary efforts to shake off the image of colonial patronage and make themselves acceptable to Hong Kong's future masters in Peking.

The net result has been to breed cynicism about the party and has led to a number of prominent defections. Nevertheless, the Liberals have benefited from lavish financing by the business community.

About half the candidates carry no party affiliation, but in the increasingly politicised atmosphere, tend to be allied informally with one of the parties. In the rural areas, where the leftists have strong historical roots, some well-known local personalities are happy to be labelled as pro-Peking. The DAB, which is more urban based, will not put up candidates to oppose them.

Most pundits think that the democrats will again do well in the coming elections, with the pro-Peking forces making significant inroads.

However, there may, be a backlash against the unaccustomed intrusion of party politics, which could mean victory for a number of independents who are running less well organised campaigns.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there