District Council elections will take place across Hong Kong on November 24 amid a record increase in voter registration. In the third part of a continuing series, HKFP speaks to newcomer pro-democracy candidates who began their campaigns during the anti-extradition bill protests – the gravest political crisis the city has faced in half a century.
Unlike many newcomers running in the District Council elections, amid ongoing protests, Leslie Chan had his first opportunity to do so back in 2011. He had led a campaign to stop the demolition of the historic bus terminal next to Tsim Sha Tsui’s Star Ferry Pier but turned down the offer to run for office.
Chan instead spent two years as legislator Claudia Mo’s assistant, then another two years in Taiwan to study, before taking inspiration from Hong Kong’s fresh wave of activism in June to stand for election. He is now running for the Tsim Sha Tsui West constituency.
“In my election platform – the papers that the electoral authorities will send to voters – I only wrote one line: ‘five demands, not one less’,” Chan told HKFP.
“I believe the majority of voters may not have known me for a long time… But most who will vote for me will do so because they want to support these kids fighting on the frontlines. This is the most important thing.”
The slogan “Five demands, not one less” refers to calls for the government to withdraw a now-axed extradition agreement proposal with mainland China, establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged misconduct, retract the term “riot” to characterise the protests, give amnesty for those arrested since the start of the 25-week-long movement, and implement dual universal suffrage.
The anti-extradition bill protests first spread to Tsim Sha Tsui on July 7, when over 200,000 marched from Salisbury Road to the West Kowloon High-Speed Rail Station. Since then, Nathan Road and Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station – both within Chan’s constituency – have frequently seen clashes and tear gas.
Kowloon Park underground controversy
Chan is a transport administration professional with a long policy advocacy record. During his time with Mo, for example, he was a key advocate for minibuses with low-platforms to assist passengers with physical disabilities.
Chan is now using his past experiences to campaign against government plans to create an underground space beneath Tsim Sha Tsui’s main green area, Kowloon Park. Critics have argued that the plan risks damaging a World War II network of British air-raid shelters, as well as dozens of trees.
“[The plans] claim that ‘leisure spaces’ will take up around 40 per cent of the underground area, but that figure actually includes pathways and corridors,” he said.
“The public facilities built for locals actually take up only around 10 per cent of the area… but [the government] has reserved some 30 per cent for commercial development.”
Chan pointed out that Tsim Sha Tsui residents could access fresh air more easily if the government built a pedestrian tunnel underneath Jordan Road – through Austin MTR station – to West Kowloon. But he said authorities have stalled on that plan for years and refused to comment on whether incumbent pro-Beijing district councillors have lobbied enough.
“[The Kowloon Park underground space] is not sustainable development… the engineering will take five to seven years,” he adds. “Tsim Sha Tsui residents would be walking on sand and rocks for a whole decade.”
Reaching out to minorities
Since his days with Mo, Chan has been studying deep-rooted linguistic divides and discrimination faced by Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities, many of whom live in Tsim Sha Tsui.
“Some of them complain that even if the government arranges [for] Cantonese classes, the timing is not suitable because, for example, they have to take care of their family,” he said. “It means that they have [fewer] career opportunities… and end up working in the same fields serving their own communities or English speakers.”
Relationships between ethnic groups were thrown into the spotlight after South Asians were accused of perpetrating an attack against protest leader Jimmy Sham on October 16, prompting calls for retribution. Four days later, multi-ethnic groups gathered outside Chungking Mansions – which houses dozens of South Asian and African stores and eateries – to distribute refreshments to passing protesters.
Tours have since been organised in Tsim Sha Tsui – particularly in Chungking Mansions – drawing crowds of ethnic Chinese residents to a building that some otherwise may have been hesitant to visit.
Chan is a frequent diner at Chungking Mansions, and pointed out that Hong Kong’s protest movement has been diverse since its start 25 weeks ago. Referring to ethnic minorities, Chan said: “Of course, they read the news, and know these protests are about the extradition bill… they know that the ‘frontliners’ who attack the MTR won’t attack their shops.”
“Since [the Kowloon protest on] July 7… I feel the overall participation of ethnic minorities in the extradition bill protests is much higher, compared to previous movements.”
“If I am fortunate enough to get elected, one thing I would really like to do is to bring different groups together on tours of Tsim Sha Tsui to understand each other’s businesses and cultures,” added Chan.
Leslie Chan of the Democratic Coalition for DC Election leads chants outside Tsim Sha Tsui police station. #hongkong #hongkongprotests #antiELAB District elections will be held on November 24. pic.twitter.com/1F5pwHdWcs
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) October 10, 2019
Uncertainties lie ahead for Chan. Although he is supported by the mainstream pan-democrats, an unprecedented five candidates have signed up to run in the Tsim Sha Tsui West constituency of the District Council elections.
The incumbent pro-Beijing district councillor Derek Hung will run instead in the Kowloon Station constituency. However, veteran ex-legislator Frederick Fung has decided to run in Tsim Sha Tsui West, as well as businessman and activist Philip Khan.
Chan said he had spoken with Khan, but only realised he was running in mid-October.
“Ultimately it’s not a problem, and it is a decision for voters to make,” said Chan. “This is how democracy works.”
The other candidates for the Tsim Sha Tsui West constituency are, Leung Hang-fai, who identifies as an independent candidate; Alex Poon, who is affiliated with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong; Frederick Fung, who has not declared his political affiliation; and Philip Khan, who has also not declared his political affiliation.