HONG KONG (Reuters) - Political newcomer Cary Lo, 37, expressed himself surprised but delighted after defeating pro-Beijing incumbent Junius Ho in the first and most high-profile upset for pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong’s district council election on Sunday.
Bolstered by six months of anti-government protests, democrats went on to score a historic victory in the poll as a record number of residents voted amid a rare lull in violence.
Raised in the working-class district of Tuen Mun by his security guard mother and a father who was a logistics manager, Lo was inspired by the “Umbrella” pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralyzed parts of the Chinese-ruled city for 79 days.
“This was my first time to participate in such a large movement. This was also my first time to suffer from tear gas,” said Lo, wearing jeans and white Reebok sneakers.
“The Umbrella movement inspired the concept of revolution via serving the community,” he added, as residents at a housing estate stopped to congratulate him and shake hands.
Lo unseated Ho, a vocal critic of the anti-government demonstrations, by 3,839 votes to 2,626 in the Lok Tsui constituency in Tuen Mun.
Ho became a hate figure of protesters when he was filmed on July 21 laughing and shaking hands with men in white T-shirts who were suspected of beating black-clad pro-democracy protesters returning to rural Yuen Long from Hong Kong island.
Also born and raised in Tuen Mun, in Hong Kong’s New Territories hinterland, Ho later told reporters he had no knowledge of or involvement in the violence, and had merely been reaching out to his constituents.
Volunteering in his spare time as a community officer for his Democratic Party in Tuen Mun over the past two years, Lo became familiar with day-to-day issues, from small legal claims to faulty air-conditioners.
“We handled a lot of cases that should have been handled by Mr Ho,” he said.
Since renewed demonstrations erupted in June this year, Lo has also embraced the protesters - whose demands include full democracy, as well as an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality - and was tear gassed alongside students at the besieged Chinese University of Hong Kong this month.
A compliance manager and anti-money laundering officer at a virtual bank, Lo drove to Polytechnic University, on Kowloon peninsula, the day after his victory to show support for the handful of protesters who remain holed up inside the campus.
He says he hopes he can secure jobs for young residents, especially those who have been arrested during the sometimes violent demonstrations, and to help injured protesters who need medical treatment.
In contrast to the vast resources available to pro-establishment candidates, Lo connected with his voters by organizing community concerts and posting homemade videos of himself playing the piano, alongside the message: “Hong Kong people, add oil,” a slogan of the movement meaning “keep your strength up”.
“In recent months and recent years, Hong Kong people are really suffering. Music can let people relax and recover.”
On Oct. 21, to mark the mob attack in Yuen Long, Lo sat cross-legged at a mall near where the violence occurred and live-streamed himself playing “Glory to Hong Kong”, the unofficial protest anthem, on his melodica.
“When I won over Junius Ho, I think that this is amazing. I really think Hong Kong people, we are still holding our ethics and morality,” said Lo, who recalled getting beer from a 7/11 to celebrate with supporters in the early hours of Monday.
“We cheer each other with lots of champagne. We hugged and kissed.”
Ho conceded defeat on his Facebook page, describing Sunday as an “exceptional election and unusual result”.
Reporting By Sarah Wu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Alex Richardson