A veteran Hong Kong District Councillor has said that he will not run for the next term following the government’s plan to restrict democratically-elected seats, saying the reform would “destroy the final bastion of democracy” in the city and result in “a loss for everyone.”

Paul Zimmerman
Southern District Council vice-chairperson Paul Zimmerman thanks voters after being re-elected to the Pok Fu Lam constituency seat in November 2019. Photo: Paul Zimmerman, via Facebook.

Paul Zimmerman, the vice-chairperson of the Southern District Council representing the Pok Fu Lam constituency, announced in a newsletter to residents on Wednesday that he would “step back” when the current term finishes at the end of the year.

“Future district councils will constitute primarily of members appointed by government or elected from and by a small circle created by government,” he wrote. “Even the few direct-elected councillors will require nominations from government appointed committees, instead of just the local electorate.”

“This is worse than I expected,” he continued, adding that the District Councils’ chairperson will be a government official under the Home Affairs Department instead of a District Councillor elected by fellow council members.

The government announced on Tuesday that the District Council polls would be reformed to prevent people from “hijacking, manipulating [and] paralysing” the local district bodies. The pro-democracy camp saw a landslide victory in elections held in 2019 amid protests and unrest against an amendment to the city’s extradition bill.

Currently, apart from the 27 seats reserved for rural committee chairmen who represent indigenous villagers, all 479 District Council seats were elected by the public.

“It will not only destroy the final bastion of democracy in Hong Kong, it is ultimately a loss for everyone – the public, the city, and the government at all levels,” Zimmerman wrote.

“The changes announced will limit the ability of government to genuinely read and respond to the needs and desires of the public.”

district council election november 11 (10)
A polling station at the District Council elections in 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Speaking to HKFP on Friday, Zimmerman said he thought the “motivation” for the government to reform the local district bodies was “quite weak.”

“The national security law is already in place. You have already revised the application procedures where people have to [pass the] ‘patriots’ test,” he said.

“I think there are enough safeguards for the government to be able to address issues that they’re worried about, [of people] trying to misuse their District Council seats or stoke unrest or get people to be anti-government,” Zimmerman added.

He said he believed his chances of winning in the reformed polls would be “quite good” due to his wide network, but that he did not think the District Council would be an effective platform to engage with residents and “get things done” in the future.

The Democratic Party, Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy party, slammed the reform and expressed concern that the new district bodies would be unfamiliar with neighbourhood affairs and lack a connection with residents.

Zimmerman said in his newsletter that he would be 65 at the end of the year. “It will be a good time to step back,” he added.

Going forward, the veteran District Councillor said he would focus on other community projects including Designing Hong Kong, a sustainability non-profit he founded, and the government advisory body Harbourfront Commission which he is a member of.

Correction 8/5/23: An earlier version of the article referred to Paul Zimmerman as the chairperson of the Southern District Council. He is the vice-chairperson. We regret the error.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.