Democratic Party plans to run in Hong Kong district council election next year

Party will ‘try to make the best use of the room allowed to reflect the views of Hong Kong people’, chairman says.

Hong Kong’s biggest opposition party may mount a comeback bid in next year’s election for the district councils, its former stronghold before nearly all of the members who helped manage neighbourhood affairs quit when Beijing required they pledge an oath of allegiance.

Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei on Wednesday said members would “go ahead” with campaigning provided the government did not change the current system under which all seats were directly elected.

“The council has always been an elected body that reflected public views, with its elected members directly accountable to the people,” Lo said. “If the system remains unchanged, we shall go ahead … Our stance is that we shall try to make the best use of the room allowed to reflect the views of Hong Kong people for the benefit of the whole Hong Kong society.”

City leader John Lee Ka-chiu, who took over in July, has said the government will review the past “failures” of the 18 district councils and propose reforms before next year’s poll, with the aim of making them “efficient” organisations.

The government has raised the prospect of appointing members to the seats, a practice that was phased out nearly a decade ago in favour of choosing district councillors by popular vote.

The Democratic Party has seen its influence shrink in recent years, along with the opposition camp. Riding on the momentum of the anti-government protests in 2019, the camp won control of 17 district councils that year. But in 2020, the party’s lawmakers joined fellow pan-democrats in a mass resignation from the Legislative Council, quitting in protest after China’s top legislative body empowered the local government to unseat politicians without having to go through the city’s courts.

In 2021, nearly all of the party’s district council members either resigned or were disqualified after being required to take a new oath of office. A number of its members have also been charged and remanded in custody in connection with national security cases.

The party decided against fielding candidates in the Legislative Council poll last year, arguing an electoral overhaul by Beijing mandating that only “patriots” hold power was a thinly disguised attempt to quash critical voices.

On the possible reforms to the district councils, Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak Mei-kuen has said the official appointment of members could be an option and stressed that the bodies must not be an “organ of political power”.

But chairman Lo warned that if the councils were to perform their function of reflecting public views, the government should not allow only like-minded people to take up seats.

The party on Wednesday also released its proposals for Lee’s maiden policy address scheduled for October 19. It urged the government to distribute a new round of HK$12,000 (US$1,528) in shopping coupons to ease the financial strain amid the pandemic slump.

The party also called for an easing of travel restrictions, warning Hong Kong could be marginalised if strict quarantine measures remained in place. It also said the requirement for wearing masks outdoors should be dropped.

To help heal the social divide, the party also urged Lee to exercise his powers and pardon young people arrested or convicted because of their roles in the 2019 social unrest.