21 August 2019
Members of the pro-democracy camp start counting the ballots at a polling station during Sunday's primaries for their candidates in the Legco by-elections. Photo: HKEJ
Members of the pro-democracy camp start counting the ballots at a polling station during Sunday's primaries for their candidates in the Legco by-elections. Photo: HKEJ

Can democrats win back four seats in by-elections?

Very much unlike her predecessor, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has enjoyed high popularity ratings since she assumed office in July last year. This bodes well for the pro-establishment camp.

However, we cannot readily assume that the opposition now has vastly diminished influence in rallying the electorate behind the democracy banner.

The state of affairs that gave rise to the democratic movement has not changed. In fact, it can be argued that the situation has worsened. Beijing’s efforts to interfere in Hong Kong affairs have become even more apparent, and the crackdown on the opposition continues.

There is also the case of justice minister Teresa Cheng, who has been thrown into the storm of controversies right after her appointment – a glaring example of the poor choice of officials who are now running the SAR government.

All this shows the need to pursue the democratic struggle, and the relevance of the opposition in Hong Kong’s political life.

All this gives the democrats enough armaments to win back the four vacated seats in the Legislative Council through the by-election battles on March 11.

Support for the democrats has not waned or faltered. On Sunday, more than 26,000 people cast their ballots in the primaries to determine the official candidates of the pan-democratic camp for the West Kowloon and New Territories East by-elections. The heavy turnout in the primaries organized by the Power for Democracy shows the solid backing of the masses that the opposition enjoys.

The localist Youngspiration party that had won the two seats did not field any candidates this time around. Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching had been disqualified after Beijing decided and the local court ruled that their oath-taking was invalid.

Disqualified lawmaker Edward Yiu won in West Kowloon primary while Gary Fan of the Neo Democrats won in his bid to run in the New Territories East race.

In a highly admirable move, the pan-democrats, including the traditional Democratic Party and the youth-based Demosistō, joined forces to select common candidates in the by-elections to consolidate their ranks and reduce the chances of victory of the pro-Beijing camp.

Demosistō fielded Agnes Chow for the Hong Kong Island battle after Nathan Law was disqualified last year. District Councilor Paul Zimmerman will run for a seat in the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape functional constituency, which Yiu held before his disqualification.

According to one school of thought, the people are now tired of pursuing the democratic fight after five years of bitter political struggle during the administration of Leung Chun-ying, and this would mean that the opposition may find less support from the masses come election day.

This may hold a grain of truth in the sense that many Hongkongers may no longer be predisposed to joining street protests to fight for democracy. But these same people who participated in the 2014 Occupy protests will continue to manifest their political stance in other, if less conspicuous, ways such as casting their ballots in elections.

This loyalty to the democratic cause is displayed in the massive turnout in Sunday’s primaries as well as in the January 1st march to uphold Hong Kong’s core values.

Will this translate to recapturing the four seats in the upcoming by-elections? There are pitfalls along the way. Yiu may face disqualification at the application stage, Sing Tao Daily reported on Tuesday. The decision came from the National People’s Congress and will remain effective throughout the current term of the Legislative Council, the pro-establishment newspaper said.

Yiu would not be qualified to join the race until the next Legco term, the report said.

The government could also play other tricks on the democrats, such as asking them about their political stance, and if they express support for Hong Kong independence, they could be disqualified by the returning officer.

But even if, say, Yiu and Chow are disqualified through this tactic, that by itself could boost the chances of the democrats in the elections as it would show to the people Beijing’s tightening grip on Hong Kong.

In her past six months at the helm, Lam may be enjoying a relatively calm political environment. But that doesn’t mean the people are unaware of what is going on in her administration, her poor choice for the justice post, the railroading of the co-location arrangement for the Express Rail Link, and Beijing’s hand in SAR policies.

How the people truly feel about her administration will find expression in the upcoming Legco by-elections.

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EJ Insight writer

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