24 October 2016
DAB's Holden Chow (inset) narrowly lost in the recent Legco by-election despite the odds being stacked in his favor. Photo: HKEJ
DAB's Holden Chow (inset) narrowly lost in the recent Legco by-election despite the odds being stacked in his favor. Photo: HKEJ

What DAB’s loss in the Legco by-election tells us

It appears that the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) has been under a curse in by-elections.

It has yet to win one.

The pro-Beijing group lost in the recent New Territory East contest, triggered by the resignation of Civic Party co-founder Ronny Tong, despite the odds being stacked in its favor.

The DAB leadership and the Beijing Liaison Office in Hong Kong must be pretty upset over Holden Chow’s loss to Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung, even though it was by a fairly narrow margin.

To say that the odds were in favor of the DAB is no exaggeration.

Since the defeat of the political reform package in the Legislative Council in June and the District Council election in November, public enthusiasm for politics has largely subsided, which meant turnout for the by-election was expected to be low.

As shown in the past, the odds are stacked in the pro-establishment camp’s favor whenever turnout is low because of its capability to mobilize its support base.

On the other hand, the clashes in Mong Kok less than a week before the by-election were widely regarded as an advantage for the DAB because of the tide of public opinion against the violence.

Despite the fact that pan-democrats quickly dissociated themselves from the instigators of the violence and denounced it, most commentators predicted that the clashes might take their toll on the Civic Party if it resulted in undecided moderate voters being put off.

Also, Alvin Yeung was fighting a war on two fronts. He was simultaneously up against the pro-establishment camp and the indigenous faction, more often known as the “valour faction” in the wake of the Mong Kok clashes.

Many believed the DAB could exploit the in-fighting in the pro-democracy camp for all it was worth. It was almost impossible for Chow to lose.

The rest is history.

Edward Leung of Hong Kong Indigenous, which played a key role in the Mong Kok clashes, bagged 66,000 votes which could otherwise have gone to pan-democrats.

Despite that, Alvin Yeung still managed to win by about 10,000 votes.

According to an exit poll, the DAB managed 35 percent of the vote compared with 42 percent in the 2012 election.

That means the pro-establishment camp could barely hold their support base 14 months after the Occupy Central movement.

There are any number of reasons for the DAB’s loss such as lack of coordination and consensus among the pro-establishment forces over the choice of candidate, as well as Chow’s reluctance to attend public debates and to take a clear stance on sensitive issues.

However, the fact that the pro-establishment camp, which ran on a social stability agenda, could barely make it even after the Mong Kok clashes, tells us how the balance of public opinion is tilted in the post-Occupy Central era.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 1.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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