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The Hong Kong District Council Election on Sunday was the sixth of its kind since the special administrative region's return to the motherland, with 1,090 candidates running for 452 seats in the local councils of 18 districts. Both the huge voter turnout and the intense competition are unprecedented, which acquire added importance against the backdrop of months-long violent demonstrations that have undermined the city's image as one ruled by law and sharpened the social divide.|
At the lowest echelon of the SAR government, district councils are local consultative and advisory bodies without independent financial and legislative power. A district council advises the government on daily community affairs including municipal work and local transportation, such as bus stops and traffic lights, and reviews government funds allocated to the district.
Besides, six seats in the Legislative Council and 117 in the Electoral Committee, which is responsible for electing the chief executive, are reserved for district council members. But ignoring the real purpose of the local council－which is to serve the community in order to make Hong Kong a better place－the opposition camp has put politics on top. It used the election as a political tool, turning it into a battlefield to meet its ulterior political motives.
What's new in the election is that a number of "pro-democracy" political neophytes contested the election. These candidates have neither experience in grassroots level service nor the sense of mission to serve the community. Their goal is to remove the people in the district councils who are committed to serving the community. Worse, certain rioters even claimed that the election is another battlefront of the radicals and gave a call to "vote in the morning and hold violent demonstrations later". If such elements win seats in the district councils, the community will see no peace and Hong Kong will continue to lose its importance as an international financial and logistics center.
With violence entering its sixth month, the rioters have striped the city's residents of their basic rights including the right to safety, work, free expression, and education. Hong Kong once noted for the rule of law has not been able to provide its residents freedom from fear thanks to the riots. Using the election as a tool, the opposition camp by fair means or foul seeks to meet its end. The radicals created an atmosphere of fear and even threatened the families of pro-establishment candidates and volunteers and set fire to their campaign materials so they couldn't garner support.
The opposition camp disrupted the normal voting procedure using dirty means and chased away the pro-establishment candidates, even though the government had made thorough arrangements beforehand. Such was the fear that many supporters of pro-establishment candidates didn't dare to vote. Youths from the opposition camp queued up repeatedly so as to lengthen the waiting time and prevent the genuine voters from casting their ballot. The opposition camp deployed some so-called volunteers at the polling stations to give presents to people so as to stop them from voting for the pro-establishment candidates and monitor the voting.
An important prerequisite of a democratic election is for people of different political ideologies and faiths to respect reason and discuss and solve the most important and fundamental problems in society. Instead, the opposition camp wants to use the Hong Kong District Council Election as a political instrument. If unchecked, the radical candidates would spell more disaster for the SAR.
Now that the opposition camp has tasted success, it will try to manipulate the Legislative Council election next year, and eventually influence the outcome of the chief executive's election, because its goal is to further weaken the "one country, two systems". An election should be seen as a barometer of public opinion. But if violence is used to force the public to give a certain type of opinion, does it portray the truth?
That the local council election was conducted as scheduled amid the unrest speaks volumes of the central government's commitment to the "one country, two systems", its respect for the SAR's autonomy and the principle of the "people of Hong Kong governing Hong Kong". The results of the election have exposed the problems accumulated during the 22 years since Hong Kong returned to China and the governance of the city has reached a critical point. This election has taught us that to make a difference, illusions must be cast away and a practical approach adopted to deal with violent demonstrations in Hong Kong.
The author is a research fellow at the Research Center of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Affairs and International Studies, Communication University of China. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.