The pro-Beijing camp is stepping up its propaganda battle to paint opposition groups in a negative light following the violent clashes between protesters and police in Mong Kok last week.
The immediate goal is to nullify any chance of success that democratic candidates may have in a Legislative Council by-election later this month.
The establishment camp is also hoping to capitalize on a potential split in the opposition vote as a “localist” has joined the fray in the by-election, throwing a challenge to the moderate democrats.
With less than two weeks to go for the by-election for the New Territories East geographical constituency, democrat supporters find themselves in a bind as to who they should back – Alvin Yeung of the Civic Party, or Edward Leung of the radical group Hong Kong Indigenous (HKI).
The contest has become interesting as there have been calls from some youth that it may be better to support the HKI candidate and try to send him to the LegCo, rather than the nominee of the traditional democracy camp.
Those backing Leung argue that he will bring a fresh approach to taking on the government and opposing controversial policies, rather than rely on the usual — and often ineffective — tactics of the democrats.
However, a decision to support HKI is not easy as the group has been accused of being a key player in the Feb. 8 clashes in Mong Kok.
Moreover, Leung was among those who were arrested and are facing possible prosecution.
Prior to the Mong Kok clashes, the by-election was seen as a strong fight between Yeung and Holden Chow of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), a pro-Beijing group.
But after last week’s incidents, a survey has shown that Chow’s approval rate has surpassed that of Yeung, putting the former in a winning position.
Yeung, a barrister by profession, has seen his support fall as he has offered legal support to some of the protesters involved in last week’s clashes, which authorities have labeled as a “riot”.
While Yeung has insisted that he is merely doing his professional duty, the pro-Beijing camp has sought to portray his actions as implicit encouragement of the use of violence during protests.
As Yeung is being attacked in a propaganda war, several young online commentators have started urging democrat supporters to throw their weight behind HKI’s Leung.
The young candidate can help initiate change in the dull political landscape in Hong Kong, even though he will be holding the seat only for about four months, the supporters say.
Hong Kong will hold its regular Legislative Council elections later this year.
The New Territories East by-election will be held on Feb. 28, as the seat became vacant following the resignation last year of Ronny Tong who quit the Civic Party.
While Leung faces a tough contest, his chances have improved as the entire localist camp is now throwing its weight behind him.
The HKI candidate has also won support from some online opinion leaders, including Roy Tsui, the founder of the popular satirical publication 100Most.
Tsui said that while he isn’t a voter in the upcoming by-election, he and his family fully support Leung. He said he wants new faces in the LegCo “to buy a hope for change”.
Online blogger Wong Sai-chak is another person who has expressed support for Leung.
Citing Taiwan politician Ju Gau-Jeng as an example, Wong said he expects Leung to be brave enough to challenge other lawmakers in the Legco and help overcome the tyranny of the pro-Beijing camp.
Some online commentators also urged qualified voters to cast their votes to Leung to show that Hong Kong people will stand firm in the face of a propaganda machine, and that they will not be brainwashed by pro-Beijing media.
As two democrats will share the same voting pool, the situation will no doubt benefit DAB’s Chow and possibly help him win the election under the simple majority mechanism.
Given the electoral system, democrat supporters will have to think and strategize carefully to make their votes count if they want to send an opposition candidate to the LegCo.
Based on the 2012 election results, democrats secured 255,546 votes with 55 percent share of votes in the New Territories East constituency, while the pro-Beijing camp secured only 166,578 or 36 percent share of votes.
That could be an easy win for a democrat candidate under one-on-one election.
But as Leung and Yeung are fighting for the same pool of votes, they will dilute each other’s support.
Even if Leung wins the radical democrat votes of around 110,000 and Yeung takes the votes of around 140,000 from traditional democrats, they may still lag behind Chow’s pro-Beijing camp votes that could add up to 170,000.
That’s the reason why voting for Leung may actually help send Chow to the LegCo.
Also running in the by-election are Third Side’s Nelson Wong, and independents Christine Fong, Albert Leung and Lau Chi-shing.
Of course, it may not be appropriate to predict the upcoming election results based on the actual turnouts four years ago, given that there have been massive changes in the political landscape in the recent past.
The 2014 Occupy campaign and concerns over Beijing’s tightening grip over Hong Kong may lead to some shift in voting patterns, while the latest Mong Kok clashes could also affect the election results.
On Wednesday, Leung accused the Registration and Electoral Office of censoring his election leaflets, after it refused to post them to voters citing some objectionable words.
Leung said he was told by the office on Monday that certain words and phrases he used, such as “self-determination” and “Hong Kong has a different history from China”, violate Article One of the Basic Law.
It is just another example of the obstacles he will have to overcome in his bid for a political career.
The HKI candidate may have the support of youth who prefer a tougher stance toward authorities, but he will need the backing of democrats from across the spectrum — radicals as well as moderates — if he is to score a win.
That looks difficult but Leung is still unwilling to accept defeat.
Given the current political climate, one wonders if the traditional democrats should have perhaps given way to Leung and done a big experiment ahead of the LegCo polls in September.
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