22 October 2016
It won't be easy for opposition groups to boost their seats in the LegCo to an extent where they can pose a serious challenge to the establishment camp. Photo: HKEJ
It won't be easy for opposition groups to boost their seats in the LegCo to an extent where they can pose a serious challenge to the establishment camp. Photo: HKEJ

Can opposition groups reach the halfway mark in LegCo?

The landslide opposition victory in Taiwan elections last month has fueled hope among Hong Kong democrats that they can bag at least half of the seats in the city’s legislature in polls later this year.

If all the opposition groups work closely, it is possible that the democratic camp can cross the halfway mark in the 70-member Legislative Council and be in a stronger position to challenge the government on various issues, they reckon.

Well, it is a good thing to have mighty ambitions but how realistic is that dream actually?

According to Benny Tai, the Hong Kong University law professor who co-founded the 2014 Occupy Central movement, pan-democrats can give the 35-seat mark a try if all non-establishment groups work closely to form an opposition alliance and conduct a coordinated campaign.

Winning 35 seats may be difficult but is not impossible, Tai says, following an analysis of previous election data in the city and the Taiwan polls last month.

Let’s now look at how the non-establishment forces could possibly secure half the total LegCo seats.

With regard to geographical constituencies, Tai believes the non-establishment alliance can win 23 out of 35 seats.

That is possible as the opposition will cooperate well and throw their support behind the strongest candidates in all five constituencies, and as more first-time voters and youngsters vote in the September election.

In the best-case scenario, the opposition is expected to win 60 percent of the vote in geographical constituencies.

With regard to the other 35 seats in the functional constituencies, the opposition would try their best to retain 9 seats in the district council, legal, education, social welfare, hygienic services, accounting, and information technology constituencies.

That would take their total number of seats in the LegCo to 32. Now, what the alliance needs is to add at least three seats in the functional constituencies in order to reach the 35-seat mark.

Tai said his analysis shows that non-establishment groups can win 35 seats in the LegCo, but success would depend a lot on cooperation between members of various groups including radical and moderate democrats as well as other Umbrella soldiers.

They need to work strategically in terms of election plan and the candidates ranking in the lists, to encourage supporters to go to the polling stations. They also need to set voting strategies to guide supporters in a bid to maximize the number of seats, so that each vote will count.

Based on Tai’s analysis, it is possible that non-establishment forces can win more seats by riding on youngsters’ votes. But it’s worth mentioning that the LegCo election is based on the proportional representation mechanism, which is much different from the single seat single vote mechanism.

In the 2012 election, democrats won 18 seats with 54.21 percent of total votes in geographical constituencies, while the pro-Beijing camp won 17 seats with just 39.09 percent of the vote.

The implication is that democrats failed to “allocate” the votes to specific list to swipe more seats. And Beijing plays such game very well, so the establishment camp can get many seats even if their votes fall 15 percentage points behind those of democrats.

For example, in the Hong Kong Island constituency, democrats won 49.7 percent of votes but they got 3 seats, while the pro-Beijing camp won 44.06 percent votes and secured 4 seats.

The non-establishment alliance would need to calculate well to make the votes they win get fully reflected in terms of the number of seats.

While the election mechanism may create an unfavorable environment for the democrats to win more seats, the crucial issue is whether the groups can work together to achieve a common goal.

For one thing, it could be quite difficult for them to reach consensus for a common election platform.

Traditional democrats like the Democratic Party and Civic Party respect the legitimacy of Beijing rule in Hong Kong, but some radical democrats as well as youngster groups are seeking true autonomy status for the city.

This could be the main obstacle for collaboration.

Moreover, there is no single party “big enough” to take the leading role for such possible tie-up, unlike the DPP in Taiwan which is well-recognized as the biggest opposition party in the island.

Tai’s suggestion, in a way, reflects the weakness of the opposition camp in Hong Kong, as they struggle for a moral high ground to fight the pro-Beijing camp.

Hong Kong can’t be compared to Taiwan. The city is a special administrative region under the People’s Republic of China, which constrains politicians from promoting the so-called localism to lure supporters.

If they resort to such tactics, they will be attacked by central authorities for not being patriotic toward the motherland.

The only common ground for the non-establishment camp would be to try to prevent the pro-Beijing camp’s dominance in the legislature.

But how do they actually realize that?

All said, it’s quite difficult to predict the performance of the opposition camp in the upcoming LegCo election.

Tai has suggested that the opposition groups should collaborate more to boost their number of seats as a whole, rather than criticize each other.

But the question is: Will that be really possible, given the differences between the various groups and the not-so-warm personal relationships between their leaders?

We are not taking any bets yet.

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EJ Insight writer

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