23 July 2019
The pro-establishment camp is taking advantage of the disunity in the pan-democratic camp. Photo: HKEJ
The pro-establishment camp is taking advantage of the disunity in the pan-democratic camp. Photo: HKEJ

Legco election: the moment of truth for pro-democracy camp

The Legislative Council election on Sunday will probably be the most hotly contested and controversial one in Hong Kong’s history, particularly in the geographical constituencies, where there are a record-breaking 213 candidates competing for just 35 seats.

But one thing that makes this election strikingly different from any previous one is the fragmentation of the pro-democracy camp.

The divisions in the pro-democracy camp have never been deeper, and the pro-establishment camp is certainly taking advantage of the ferocious infighting between the traditional pan-democrats and the newly arising localist and pro-independence faction in this election.

There is fierce competition even among the pan-democrats themselves. For example, the Democratic Party, the Civic Party and the Labour Party have fielded candidates in all the five geographical constituencies and the “super District Council” constituency.

And so it appears the pro-establishment camp is determined to milk this disunity in the pro-democracy camp for all it is worth in this election, and is working aggressively to conquer over half of the seats in the geographical constituencies, thereby achieving a two-thirds majority in the next Legco.

According to the results of the latest poll conducted by the Hong Kong University, the pro-establishment camp is likely to snap up at least 18 seats in the geographical constituencies.

Though some academics have raised doubts about the accuracy of this forecast, I believe the pro-democracy camp should take the results of this poll seriously.

Supporters of the pro-establishment camp, most of whom are from the grassroots, are usually not very forthcoming about who they will vote, and as a result pre-election polls often underestimate the odds of pro-establishment candidates.

Moreover, leading pro-establishment parties such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kon and the Federation of Trade Unions have mastered the art of coordinating votes among their candidates through years of practice so much so that they can get whoever they want elected by diverting enough votes to them on election day.

In comparison, the pro-democracy camp is so disorganized and disunited, and this puts them at a huge disadvantage.

This election will be the moment of truth for some of the pan-democratic parties which are struggling to survive.

Let’s take the Democratic Party as an example. Once the flagship in the pro-democracy camp, it has seen its popularity decline in recent years.

In order to rejuvenate the party and save its Legco seats, some of its seasoned incumbents have stepped down and allowed younger members to run.

They will find out this Sunday whether their last-ditch effort to save their party is going to work or not.

A number of parties belonging to the radical wing of the pan-democrats such as People Power, the Social Democrats and even the Neo Democrats are also facing an identity crisis.

They are considered outdated and not radical enough by young voters who are increasingly drawn to the independence cause, but are also deemed not professional enough by middle-class voters.

Therefore, this election may also prove to be a make-or-break moment for these parties.

As I have pointed out before, the turnout rate is going to be the single most decisive factor affecting the outcome of this election.

If the voter turnout is low, let’s say 53 percent like in the last Legco election, then I believe the pro-establishment camp will probably take 18 to 20 seats in the geographical constituencies.

However, if the turnout rate this time is no less than 5 percent higher than in the 2012 election, then chances are the pro-democracy camp will still keep their marginal majority in the geographical constituencies.

Whatever the results, this election will definitely have far-reaching implications for our society and reshape the political landscape of our city, something which I will discuss in detail in my next article.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 31.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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