Introducing Hong Kong's 'umbrella soldiers'


What happened when Hong Kong's youth demonstrators actually tried to get elected?

The BBC's Juliana Liu followed the final campaigning hours of two young women standing for office in the city's district elections, the first polls since last October's protest movement. Read on to find out if they succeeded.

0730: Dawn call for the 'umbrella soldiers'

Few souls are visible on the streets early on Sunday morning in the Hong Kong neighbourhood of Whampoa. But there are only 15 hours of campaigning left and two young, idealistic first-time candidates - part of a new breed known as the "umbrella soldiers" - are already in action.

Image caption,
Dr Kwong Po Yin (right), 29 and and Yau Wai Ching, 24, (left) brief volunteers on the streets of Whampoa

Dr Kwong Po Yin, 29, an emergency room doctor, and Yau Wai Ching, 24, a former administrator, are members of Youngspiration, a political party founded in the wake of last year's Umbrella Movement to keep its legacy alive.

Both are running against older establishment politicians with more resources, so neither presumes they will win but they will still hit the streets in their respective constituencies.

Image caption,
Only the parrot lady seemed to want to stop to talk to Ms Kwong

It's frustrating at times for Dr Kwong, contesting the Whampoa West district, a middle-class area with more than 8,000 registered voters. The few residents she sees are not keen to speak. Most of them seem to brush her off.

But one resident, who is walking her friendly pet parrot, stops to chat.

0830: The sleepless volunteers

She is supported by a band of volunteers even younger than she is, who have been consistently campaigning. They spent the night organising election paraphernalia detailing her plans to improve transport links.

But they are not alone. Dr Kwong's opponent, Lau Wai Wing, 64, a district councillor for more than 20 years, is already here. He says he's not surprised to face a political newcomer. He says he understands that millenials have different positions on political issues.

1030: Dim sum politics

Spirits are somewhat higher when it comes to the hallowed Hong Kong campaign tradition of tackling the tea houses.

Dr Kwong and a volunteers greet families sitting down to a Sunday brunch of hot tea and steamer after steamer of delicious dim sum. Buoyed by the food, drink and lively, noisy atmosphere, the residents break into ready smiles and wish Dr Kwong well.

1430: Voting could set a record

By this time, the polling stations, almost 500 of them, have been open for seven hours.

It is already apparent, looking at the hourly data provided by election monitors, that turnout is likely to hit a record high. The umbrella soldiers, about 50 of them, reckon the higher the turnout, the better their chances of victory.

1930: A final push

With only three more hours of voting left, Dr Kwong is seizing the moment.

Climbing onto a ladder, bullhorn in hand, she urges passers-by to vote for her and for Ms Yau. Their victory, she says, would show that support for the Umbrella Movement can translate into concrete political gain.

Even though district councillors do not make laws, they do help manage large sums of public money. And they have the opportunity to interact with residents daily. These voters, Dr Kwong says, are a very powerful base of support, one that her party wants to build for many years to come.

2229: The final moments

With less than a minute to go before the polls close, election officials are looking for any stragglers.

2330 - The final countdown

Turnout in Whampoa West reaches a high of 50% of registered voters, significantly higher than the 41% seen four years ago. This is the kind of unfettered, credible election that democrats want for the chief executive, Hong Kong's highest official. Their disagreement with the Chinese government on this matter is what triggered last year's protests.

0000: Down to the wire

Tensions soar as the election officer announces that, after three rounds of counting, there is still no clear winner. The issue, he says, is that there are 66 "questionable" ballots. Each must be personally examined to see whether they are valid. The result will determine the winner.

The crowd gathers tightly around him. The stress is palpable. The official shows each ballot before making his decision.

And the winner is....

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ms Kwong celebrates her win

After going through all of them, he pronounces Dr Kwong the winner of the election by just 39 votes. She looks stunned.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ms Kwong shakes hands with her opponent in the election

0030: On the other side of the street

Meanwhile, the same process is happening across the street. Ms Yau is a credible challenge to an experienced political insider. But after rigorous rounds of counting, she appears to have lost by several hundred votes.

The turnout in that district was even higher at 55%. The two women shared exactly the same platform, but one has won and the other has lost. After months of intense campaigning, the two political sisters hug and congratulate each other.

In her victory speech, Dr Kwong acknowledges how the Umbrella Movement transformed her from ordinary citizen to politician fighting for Hong Kong's future.