23 October 2016
Different political groups in the non-pro-establishment camp need to band together to maximize their chances of winning in the upcoming Legco election. Photo: HKEJ
Different political groups in the non-pro-establishment camp need to band together to maximize their chances of winning in the upcoming Legco election. Photo: HKEJ

The ‘safety line’ is also a lifeline for the pro-democracy camp

Unlike parliamentary elections in major western countries like the United States and Britain, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council elections are based on a “party list proportional representation” system using the “largest remainder method”, under which candidates from smaller or less popular parties can stand a better chance of getting elected to our legislature.

However, the complicated nature of our unique election system makes it pretty difficult for political analysts and even campaign managers to calculate the winning odds of candidates.

And even if the political number-crunchers manage to work out the candidates’ chances of winning in theory, the numbers don’t always add up in practice.

For example, in the 2012 Legco election, nine seats were contested in the New Territories East constituency.

In theory, any list of candidates must get at least 11.1 percent of the votes to win one seat.

However, thanks to the “largest remainder method”, none of the winning lists reached that threshold.

Instead, the average percentage of votes gained by the winning candidates was only 8.2 percent, almost 3 percent below the theoretical threshold of 11.1 percent.

In other words, when it comes to Legco elections, there is always an unpredictable discrepancy between the math you work out in advance and the real number of votes you need to win on election day.

The reason I would like to work out the chances of winning for candidates in the upcoming Legco election is that I am concerned about the election prospects of the “non-pro-establishment” camp.

In the past, we used to refer to them as the “pan-democrats”, but after the Occupy movement, the pan-democratic camp has undergone a substantial fragmentation, resulting in the rise of a considerable number of new political groups led by young activists — such as the “paratroopers” and Hong Kong Indigenous – who are against Beijing and the old-school pan-democrats at the same time.

The traditional pan-democratic flagships, such as the Democratic Party and the Civic Party, are no longer at the center of mass political movements in the city.

The vibrant fledging political groups are largely against the idea of coordinating with the traditional pan-democratic parties, and they are likely to form their own lists of candidates and run against the pan-democrats in the upcoming Legco election, thereby splitting anti-establishment voters and leading to a lose-lose situation for the entire pro-democracy camp.

Simply put, the more pro-democracy candidates are running, be they newcomers or incumbents, the smaller chance they will get elected, because this will certainly split their support base, allowing the pro-establishment camp to fish in troubled waters.

To prevent the pro-Beijing camp from gaining a two-thirds majority in the next Legco, the indigenous faction and the paratroopers must put aside their differences with the traditional pan-democrats, at least for now, and form a united front against their common enemy, their pro-Beijing rivals.

Next, we must do the math seriously and work out the lowest threshold for getting elected in each geographical constituency, the “safety line”, and then concentrate our scarce resources on candidates who have the biggest chances of winning.

Let’s say, if in one particular constituency, the “safety line” is set at 15 percent, which means any list of candidates must get at least 15 percent of the votes to get elected, then we must conduct a series of approval rating polls before the nomination period.

Based on the poll findings, any candidate who is way below the “safety line” should drop out of the race because he or she just has no hope of winning.

It might sound like raw political calculus and is much easier said than done, for it is already not easy for the paratroopers and members of the indigenous faction to reconcile with the pan-democrats, let alone give up their own chances of running.

Certainly, it will take a lot of time, effort, schmoozing, argument and arm-twisting to reach that kind of consensus.

But given the fact that we are just far outnumbered and outfunded by our opponents in the powerful pro-establishment camp, this is necessary.

Also, if there are several anti-Beijing candidates who are just slightly below the “safety line”, or whose support base overlaps, they might consider joining together and forming a single list to run, thereby uniting their supporters and achieving synergy.

The “safety line” can also serve as a benchmark or index based on which the indigenous and pan-democratic camps can coordinate and legally guide their supporters to vote strategically on election day to maximize their gains.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 18.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

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