22 October 2016
Civic Party's Alvin Yeung won the by-election but public spotlight was on the Hong Kong Indigenous. Photo: HKEJ
Civic Party's Alvin Yeung won the by-election but public spotlight was on the Hong Kong Indigenous. Photo: HKEJ

The fallout from that by-election

Hong Kong’s democrats have problems with many things but they really excel in one area: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The recent Legco by-election was a stunning success for the pro-democracy camp but it was followed by a long succession of democrats doing everything but stressing this obvious and central fact.

Even the winner, the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, launched into an immediate peroration about the need for the Dems to reassess their tactics.

Edward Leung Tin-kei, who secured over 60,000 votes for the indigenous movement, promptly declared his campaign to be a “failure”, although the result far exceeded most expectations.

I quite understand that there is such a thing as modesty in triumph and on a personal level, this lack of boosting is quite admirable.

However, when you are in the thick of a political battle, with very high stakes, it is equally important to keep up the morale of the troops.

What happened in this election is that the pro-government camp, with infinitely larger resources and a couple of candidates who were far more presentable than many from this side of the fence, saw their share of the vote dwindle, while the democrats held onto the position they secured back in the 2012 election.

In this election the Civic Party alone secured 37 percent of the votes while Leung’s 15 percent share pushed the anti-government camp to well over half the total number of votes cast.

The DAB suffered an embarrassing decline from winning just below 35 percent of the votes, compared with the pro-government camp’s impressive 42 percent share in 2012.

The democratic camp not only did well but proved its ability to unite behind Yeung, although he may well have not been the preferred candidate of all democrats.

Yeung in turn was careful not to alienate the Hong Kong Indigenous supporters who he correctly views as being part of the democratic camp, albeit running along a rather different trajectory.

The Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had repeatedly urged electors to vote the democrats out but like most of the words coming out of his mouth, this plea fell on deaf ears.

Holden Chow Ho-ding, the DAB’s candidate, did his best to turn this election into a verdict on the Lunar New Year disturbances in Mong Kok and stressed this theme above all else.

However, the overwhelming majority of electors rejected his plea, while 15 percent of them went so far as to vote for Edward Leung who has been arrested for his part in these events.

The pro-government camp has been floundering in trying to explain all this.

So far they have tested credibility by suggesting that their online presence might have been insufficient, while muttering vaguely about a lack of coordination.

Another tack has been to suggest that Chow suffered because of a lack of Heung Yee Kuk backing; however, as a resident in the constituency I can report that the Kuk gave the DAB fulsome support.

Maybe the unpalatable reality for the Kuk is that its endorsement of Chow added to his troubles as this body’s evident greed does much to alienate New Territory residents who are, ironically, not considered to be indigenous.

Another interesting aspect of this campaign was the abysmal failure of so-called “moderate” or “middle way” candidates to make much of an impression.

The media has given generous coverage to so-called moderates, especially to the newly formed Third Side party, which ran the hapless Nelson Wong Sing-chi as its candidate.

Both Wong and the pro-establishment ex-Liberal Party member Christine Fong Kwok-shan barely registered with the voters who, we were told, were desperate for a middle way.

By-elections have a habit of being a flash in the pan but this one has shaken the pro-government camp that started believing its own propaganda about Hong Kong people being fed up with the democrats, while trying to brand the entire democratic camp as somehow violent and irresponsible.

The traditional democrats won a victory but now need to find a way of working with this new force exemplified by Edward Leung and his enthusiastic supporters.

On the one hand, the so-called indigenous campaigners are part of the democratic camp but on the other, prepared to use tactics and make localist demands that scare the traditional Dems.

For all its faults, the election has yet again proved to be an important weather maker for Hong Kong politics.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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