Hong Kong’s largest political party unveiled its new leadership on Monday, as lawmaker Gary Chan replaced Starry Lee as the new chair in the run-up to December’s “patriots only” District Council race.

“We are committed to enhance the delivering of good governance,” Chan told reporters in English after he was elected to lead the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) on Monday night. “We are across social classes, political organisations, working for Hong Kong society’s overall and long term interests.”

Gary Chan
Gary Chan in Legislative Council on April, 27, 2022. File Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Chan stated that his group will reform by shifting focus to assisting the authorities in governing the city, but he also said that the DAB will field as many candidates as possible in the newly-restricted December 10 election.

Lawmakers Elizabeth Quat and Ben Chan were elected to new roles as vice-chairs, alongside incumbent vice-chairs Brave Chan, Holden Chow and Chan Hok-fung, who will serve for another term.

Political reform

Gary Chan succeeded Starry Lee, the first female chairperson of the DAB and the city’s only delegate to China’s top decision-making body. Lee earlier indicated that she would stand down after eight years in the leadership role.

Chan, aged 47, said that his group will transform from an “election-oriented party” into one that helps the government bring in policies that are on-the-ground and beneficial to society.

Legislative Council oath taking ceremony Chan Wing-kwong
Lawmakers congratulate pro-Beijing DAB party’s Chan Wing-kwong on his election into the Legislative Council on Dec. 19, 2022. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He said that the group will proactively safeguard national security, oppose the hegemonic behaviour of the US and the West, whilst strengthening communication with the international community to tell Hong Kong and China’s story. “I feel [a] profound sense of responsibility and will devote myself entirely to fulfil my duties,” he added in English.

Chan also said that he would stay on as a member of the Executive Council, the city’s key decision-making body, adding that his dual role could strengthen the relationship between the party and the government.

Road to election

While Chan said his party will shift away from chasing votes, he said that the upcoming District Council race in December will be a priority: “[The DAB] will send as many candidates as possible in December,” Chan said in Cantonese when asked by a reporter.

Plans to overhaul the District Council elections were unveiled in May 2023 to ensure only “patriots” were elected, following a pro-democracy landslide at the last polls in 2019.

The number of seats chosen democratically by the public were slashed from 452 to 88 – reducing the power of public votes to a fifth. The rest are to be chosen by the city’s leader and government-appointed committees.

Constituency boundaries were redrawn, the opposition were shut out, voting hours were slashed by an hour, and each local council is to be chaired by a government official, similar to colonial-era arrangements. All candidates undergo national security vetting to ensure patriotism.

Last week, the Democratic Party, the biggest opposition party in the city, said it will field eight hopefuls in the upcoming race, but said that it would be difficult to engage committee members.

In response to the concerns, Chan said that it is the responsibility of the candidate to secure their nominations. “If you can prove you are a patriot, then you can join the race,” he said in Cantonese.

See also: Shifting Narratives: How the official attitude to Hong Kong’s District Councils changed

At the height of the 2019 protests and unrest, the DAB suffered a thrashing in the local election that November, with its seats reduced drastically from 119 to 21.

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Hans Tse is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in local politics, academia, and media transformation. He was previously a social science researcher, with writing published in the Social Movement Studies and Social Transformation of Chinese Societies journals. He holds an M.Phil in communication from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Before joining HKFP, He also worked as a freelance reporter for Initium between 2019 and 2021, where he covered the height - and aftermath - of the 2019 protests, as well as the sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.