District Council elections will take place across Hong Kong on November 24 amid a record increase in voter registration. In the second part of a continuing series, HKFP speaks to newcomer pro-democracy candidates who began their campaigns during the anti-extradition bill protests – the gravest political crisis the city has faced in half a century.

In the wake of the SARS epidemic and Article 23 protests in 2003, Wanchai became possibly one of the only districts in post-handover history to elect a pro-democracy majority in its District Council. It was chaired by heavyweight arts administrator Ada Wong and included singer Mary Ann King.

But the tables turned within a few years after the pro-Beijing camp began to intensify their campaigning. Following the 2015 elections, visual artist Clarisse Yeung was the only openly pro-democracy member of the 13-seat Wanchai District Council, despite being a “post-Umbrella Movement” newcomer.

File photo: InMedia.

It is unclear what attracted so many artists to run in Wanchai for the District Council elections. Amid the 2019 protests – sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition agreement proposal with China – several reached out to Yeung with plans to contest seats dominated by the pro-Beijing camp. Together, the candidates formed the “Kickstart Wanchai” coalition.

In Wanchai’s Happy Valley constituency, curator and lecturer Clara Cheung are one of two pro-democracy candidates looking to hinder another pro-Beijing victory.

“Since the anti-extradition bill movement… I think a lot of Hong Kong people, including [myself], are willing to get out of their comfort zone and do more,” she told HKFP.

“A group of community artists… who have done a lot of public artwork or socially engaged art, had several meetings in June to brainstorm what else we could do apart from artwork. Some of us decided to run in the District Council elections.”

Photo: Clara Cheung via Facebook.

Although Wanchai has often been the site of protester-police clashes owing to its proximity to government buildings, Happy Valley has remained largely untouched.

Cheung, who is not a local, was attracted to the area’s rich history, which she now attempts to document in a project that involves drawing maps of historic sites in the neighbourhood.

Through her campaigning, she has discovered hidden public spaces capable of accommodating community projects. “In community art, we always treasure ‘street culture,’ which Happy Valley definitely has,” she said.

Happy Valley inhabitants are largely middle-class and may not be as reliant on free services offered by pro-Beijing groups as poorer constituencies. But Cheung pointed out that residents have been demanding improved public transportation given the lack of MTR links and “pet-friendly” public spaces.

Photo: GovHK.

Cheung does not consider it a sacrifice to step out of her comfort zone. Instead, she said it has been a learning experience. “I’ve met a lot of elderly people in the park, who’ve told me stories [about Happy Valley] since World War II,” she said.

“In this area, we have a lot of elderly people, over 90 years old, and a lot of them are actually very well-educated with nice memories.”

“I find that I’ve gained a lot already… and discovered new things,” she added. “Even if I didn’t run for this post, this is something I would [want] to do.”

One constituency, three candidates

Cheng has since left Kickstart Wanchai to focus on her family and work in Happy Valley, where she meets residents virtually every day.

Photo: InMedia.

The constituency’s long-time pro-Beijing councillor Stephen Ng is set to retire this year, and his son Sam Ng is running in his place. Cheung is not the only pro-democracy candidate challenging the pro-Beijing camp, however. Vivian Chan of 2047 Hong Kong Monitor, a pro-democracy political advocacy group, has also decided to run in Happy Valley.

Cheung told InMedia that she has attempted to coordinate with Chan in order to prevent the two pro-democracy candidates from overlapping with each other. Though unsuccessful, Cheung said she believes that she has a chance of victory if enough voters turn out.

Cheung said she was relying on her creative background to distinguish herself from other candidates. In a corner of Shing Wo Road, where Cheung stores her election materials, hangs a large canvas decorated by local residents. Covered in circles of different colours, the artwork was made during a community activity last month.

“This is art as therapy, in response to the stressful situation Hong Kong [is] in the past few months,” she said.

Photo: Clara Cheung via Facebook.

A deeper source of inspiration for the painting activity may have been the recent suicide of a local elderly man, whose story community members shared with Cheung.

“Even if people have comparatively better living standards, they still need people to care about them… it is the soul that you perhaps need to touch upon.”

Other candidates running for election in the Happy Valley constituency are Vivian Chan of 2047 Hong Kong Monitor and Sam Ng, who has not declared a political affiliation.

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Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.