Hong Kong district councillors kick off new term with pledge to pursue protesters’ demands amid anti-government movement

Kimmy Chung

Members of two district councils under the pro-democracy bloc in Hong Kong have pledged to pursue protesters’ demands amid the anti-government movement, as they held their first meetings following the camp’s landslide victory in recent polls.

Central and Western district as well as Sai Kung district were the first two to hold talks on Thursday following the commencement of the new term of office for councillors on New Year’s Day.

In elections last November, opposition candidates took control of 17 out of 18 districts citywide.

The remaining 15 councils under the camp are expected to make similar moves to press the government to address protesters’ demands at the district level, as the political crisis, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, continues into its seventh month.

The pro-establishment camp, meanwhile, has set up a group to monitor any abuse of district resources in pushing for political goals.

Gary Fan, an elected district councillor in Sai Kung. Photo: Nora Tam

In Sai Kung, most of the 31 district councillors voted in support of creating a working group to follow up on incidents involving protests.

The proposed functions of the group included “urging the government to implement the five demands fully”, referring to protesters’ call for an independent inquiry into police action, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and not to categorise the protests as riots.

“I absolutely agree to set up such a group,” Gary Fan Kwok-wai, elected district councillor from the NeoDemocrats and an ex-lawmaker, said. “It is our absolute responsibility and an important mission.”

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Fan said Tseung Kwan O was one of the areas in which many arrests were made over protests.

Together with other newly elected pro-democracy councillors, Valerie Wong Cheuk-ng expressed hope that police would come to the district council to respond to citizens’ accusations of brutality by officers.

Ben Chung Kam-lun from the NeoDemocrats and independent Francis Chau Yin-ming were appointed uncontested as chairman and vice-chairman of Sai Kung District Council respectively.

Ben Chung (centre), chairman of Sai Kung District Council. Photo: RTHK

In the Central and Western District Council, the new chairwoman and vice-chairman are veterans Cheng Lai-king and Victor Yeung Sui-yin, both from the Democratic Party.

All 15 members of the council, including Liberal Party’s Jeremy Young Chit-on, the only pro-establishment member among them, observed a minute of silence for those who have died during the anti-government movement.

Cheng read out a statement, pledging to fight on under the protest slogan “five demands, not one less”. The government has so far fulfilled one demand with the withdrawal of the hated extradition bill.

“Hong Kong has become a police state,” she read. “We demand that those who break the law be punished immediately.”

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During the meeting, they supported the creation of a new “constitutional and security committee”, with priority for an investigation into police use of force when handling protests in the district.

Councillor Kam Nai-wai from the Democratic Party said: “More than 6,000 people have been arrested, but not a single one is an officer. It is outrageous.”

Central and Western District Council chairwoman Cheng Lai-king and vice-chairman Victor Yeung were appointed uncontested. Photo: Nora Tam

Young said he was “neutral” about setting up a new committee, but ended up joining others in approving it. Expressing disappointment with the government’s performance, he also voiced his reservation that the move might only further polarise society.

The council also agreed on the scrapping of proxy votes, which allowed absent councillors to let colleagues act on their behalf.

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Having switched roles to become the minority in district councils, the pro-establishment camp on Thursday set up a monitoring group called District Councils Observers to monitor the operations of all 18 councils.

Chan Hok-fung, a group founder and former deputy chairman of the Central and Western District Council, said: “Even with most of us defeated, we still represent the opinion of 1.2 million voters. Our supporters have expressed worries that the pan-democrats would utilise district resources to advance their political goals.”

Chan, also a vice-chairman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said they would seek legal opinion on whether their rivals’ working group in Sai Kung District Council was aligned with the responsibilities of members set out in law.

In the district council polls last year, the DAB suffered its starkest defeat, winning just 21 seats, down from the 119 clinched in the previous elections.

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