18 February 2019
Civic Party's Alan Leong (center) believes that if the pro-democracy camp stays united, it can secure 400-500 seats in the next CE Election Committee. Photo: HKEJ
Civic Party's Alan Leong (center) believes that if the pro-democracy camp stays united, it can secure 400-500 seats in the next CE Election Committee. Photo: HKEJ

‘Democracy 500+’? It’s not entirely wishful thinking

On Sunday the Electoral Affairs Commission held a briefing session to explain in detail the various arrangements being made for the March 26 chief executive election.

At the briefing for the three official candidates, the returning officer for the election, Carlye Chu Fun-ling, drew lots to determine the order of the names of the candidates on the ballot paper.

The assigned numbers for John Tsang Chun-wah, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Woo Kwok-hing are 1, 2 and 3 respectively.

Meanwhile, the pro-democracy coalition “Democracy 300+” held a meeting a day earlier for a discussion as to which candidate they should vote for on election day. After the meeting the group announced that all the 325 pro-democracy members on the Election Committee (EC) will vote in tandem, and will opt for the contender with the highest approval ratings.

In the past the pro-democracy camp often remained hesitant over whether to actively take part in the CE election, mainly out of concern that their participation in the small-circle election might be interpreted by the public as an act of endorsing the unjust political system, and risk alienating their support base.

However, this year’s CE contest has witnessed a drastic change of mindset and strategy among the pro-democracy camp, which has secured a historic 325 seats on the Election Committee, up almost 50 percent compared to 2012. The numbers allowed them to nominate both Tsang and Woo and enable the duo to run against Lam, who many believe has been handpicked by Beijing for the city’s top job.

The fact that EC members of the pro-democracy camp have aligned themselves with two former public office holders with strong pro-establishment backgrounds and thrown their weight behind them unanimously indicates that differences in political ideology and partisanship have given way to political expediency among the mainstream pan-democrats this time.

The pan-democrats are determined to go to great lengths to thwart the “bad” pro-establishment candidate backed by Beijing by rooting for “good” pro-establishment figures like Tsang and Woo.

The group’s new strategy is undoubtedly a far cry from its approach to the CE elections in the past.

However, while the pan-democrats have turned out to be a force to be reckoned with within the Election Committee at the nomination stage, their power to influence the election outcome should not be over-estimated.

It is because after all, they are holding just slightly more than one-fourth of the total seats in the committee, and even if they cast their votes entirely for Tsang, he would still need another 300 votes or so to secure a victory, which will definitely prove a daunting task for him, given the fact that his major rival Lam has Beijing’s blessing.

Yet if the pan-democrats continue with their proactive approach to CE election in the days ahead, chances are they might be able to gain more seats in the next Election Committee and become the real “kingmaker” in the 2022 CE election.

According to the Civic Party’s Alan Leong Kah-kit, a former lawmaker and a leading member of the “Democracy 300+”, even if the candidate they support loses this time, they are confident that they can snap up 400 to 500 seats in the next Election Committee, as long as they stick together and stay united in face of the escalating political interference from Beijing.

To some, the “Democracy 300+” members might sound a bit too optimistic about their own election prospects. However, if our next CE continues with the confrontational and belligerent style of governance like the one adopted by incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying, and further fuels the divisions and polarization in our society, chances are the pan-democrats might be able to tap into that mounting public grievances and broaden their support base.

As such, the prospect of the “Democracy 300+” eventually turning into “Democracy 500+” and becoming the kingmaker in the next CE election will depend largely on how our next CE performs in mending fences in society over the next five years.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 6

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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