Sticking to their ‘anti-disqualification’ and ‘anti-Communist’ themes caused opposition to suffer a heavy erosion of voter support, Tony Kwok writes
After casting his vote in the Legislative Council by-election on Sunday, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa made a public appeal. He said: “The era of quarrelling should be ended. Advocacies of Hong Kong independence and self-determination will cost the city a heavy toll.” He called on people to vote for candidates who were “constructive, pragmatic and true-heartedly serving Hong Kong into the Legislative Council”.
His appeal is most important and timely — opposition parties had used the by-election as a “de facto referendum” over LegCo members’ disqualification saga, with “anti-disqualification and anti-Communist” as their campaign theme.
Such an anti-Communist stance used to work in previous LegCo geographical constituency elections, garnering them votes with a ratio of 6 to 4 over pro-establishments opponents. However, as China strengthens and gains respect on the world stage more and more Hong Kong people appreciate the extraordinary achievements of the country under the Communist Party of China’s leadership, laying to rest the “pan-democrats’” former electoral winning formula. That was starkly brought home in the geographical constituency election, when pro-establishment candidate Vincent Cheng Wing-shun achieved an unprecedented victory over the opposition candidate in Kowloon West, where he took home 107,479 votes, over anti-disqualification champion Edward Yiu Chung-yim’s 105,060 votes. This result is most encouraging and demonstrated a drastic shift in public sentiment and a gradual return to rationality in local politics. It also showed that playing the anti-Communism card will no longer work in local politics.
The pro-establishment camp should take advantage of their enhanced position and seek to amend LegCo rules of procedure to put the house in order. They can start with enforcing a proper dress code and prohibiting placards on members’ tables and unjustified filibusters
Even in the Hong Kong Island constituency, the pro-establishment New People’s Party candidate Judy Chan Ka-pui only suffered a marginal loss to Au Nok-hin, who had all the heavyweights of the opposition camp coming out in full force to campaign for him. Au bagged 137,181 votes to Chan’s 127,634. But Au’s tally is still much less than Anson Chan Fang On-sang received in a similar by-election in 2007, when she garnered 175,874 votes, thus representing a loss of 38,324 votes. This is attributed at least in part to their anti-disqualification slogan which many voters find unacceptable.
Also in the New Territories East constituency, a traditional stronghold of the opposition they had 57.6 percent of votes and pocketed six out of the nine constituency seats in the 2016 general election. But on this occasion, their representative Gary Fan Kwok-wai, of the Neo-Democrats, won with 183,762 votes — just 44 percent of all valid votes. It clearly showed a substantial decline of their voter appeal, as many voters are put off by their “anti-disqualification” campaign.
It is gratifying to see a return to rationality in the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape functional constituency where pro-establishment candidate Tony Tse Wai-chuen beat opposition rival Paul Zimmerman, enlarging the camp’s dominance in the functional group to 25 against 10.
The Kowloon West win lets the pro-establishment camp continue leading the geographical group by 17 to 16 seats, thus taking away the opposition’s veto power under LegCo’s split-voting rule, which they had often abused in the past.
The pro-establishment camp should take advantage of their enhanced position and seek to amend LegCo rules of procedure to put the house in order. They can start with enforcing a proper dress code and prohibiting placards on members’ tables and unjustified filibusters. LegCo should also seek a refund of expenses from disqualified former member Yiu.
However, it should be noted that in the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape functional constituency, loser Zimmerman had 2,345 votes against Tony Tse’s 2,929. It is hard to understand why there are 2,345 professionals in this constituency who would choose a non-professional as their LegCo representative. Efforts should be made to ascertain their motive and whether a better understanding of the huge development potential for them in the Greater Bay Area project would change their attitude toward the Chinese mainland.
Hong Kong Island winner Au Nok-hin was found to have burnt the Basic Law booklet in public and during an election debate, he claimed he would be prepared to burn it again! This cannot be tolerated as it is clearly in breach of the National People’s Congress interpretation that all LegCo members should respect and swear allegiance to the Basic Law. A judicial review should be lodged as soon as possible to strip him of his LegCo membership.
Au is commonly regarded as a representative of the young political party Demosisto, which advocated “Hong Kong independence” and “self-determination”. The party is in turn supported by foreign forces. Hence his win would likely encourage this radical political party to be more aggressive in pursuing their political goals. It thus needs to be monitored more closely and accountability be made as to the source of his political funding for the election.
In this by-election, only 904,000 of the 2.1 million registered voters in the four constituencies cast their ballots; the turnout was merely 43 percent. If Hong Kong really wants to push for greater democracy, they must demonstrate they are at least prepared to sacrifice 15 minutes of their time to walk to their nearby polling station to vote! Hong Kong should seriously consider following Singapore’s example of mandatory voting.
As a final observation, this by-election cost HK$500 million to stage. If the judiciary was prepared to speed up the appeals of the other two disqualified members, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Lau Siu-lai, who have appealed their disqualifications, we could have had to hold just one by-election, and save taxpayers a huge sum of money and a lot of the public’s time.
The author is the honorary fellow and adjunct professor of HKU SPACE, a council member of the Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and an adviser of Our Hong Kong Foundation. He was a deputy commissioner of ICAC.