The pan-democrats held primaries on Sunday to determine their final choices of candidates to run in the Legislative Council by-elections in March, and there was a pretty high turnout.
As expected, Edward Yiu Chung-yim won the race in the geographical constituency of Kowloon West by a significant margin, while Gary Fan Kwok-wai representing the Neo Democrats also pulled off an easy victory in New Territories East.
After the primaries, all the leading figures in the pro-democracy camp vowed to stay united and rally behind Yiu and Fan with only one goal in mind: to take back all of their lost seats in the upcoming electoral battles.
As we all know, under the “single-seat, single-vote” system, the pan-democrats always have a substantial advantage over their pro-Beijing rivals. However, that advantage would only exist if the pan-democrats stick together wholeheartedly and strive together for the same goal.
Unfortunately, the pan-democrats have been plagued by serious fragmentation and heavy infighting over the past few years.
Though it appears they have agreed to set aside their differences and fight together in face of the pro-Beijing camp’s challenge, certain signs in the primaries on Sunday suggested otherwise. There is still an undercurrent of partisan conflict within the pro-democracy camp.
For example, in the run-up to the primaries, Democratic Party heavyweights chose to root for Steven Kwok Wing-kin of the Labor Party rather than Gary Fan, their former partymate who broke away in 2010 and founded the Neo Democrats, a political group that is more drawn to the localist theme.
That the Democrats were preferring Kwok to Fan suggests that they are still unwilling to set aside their “bad blood” with the latter.
And even though Gary Fan was in the lead by a significant margin over other contenders in the primary in terms of the number of popular votes and approval ratings, he was beaten by Steven Kwok when it comes to party’s votes, suggesting that Fan may not have been the best choice in the eyes of the various pan-democratic parties.
As such, the cosmetic and fragile unity among the pan-democrats may indeed undermine Fan’s odds in the upcoming by-elections.
And then there is also a concern about the possibility of Edward Yiu being barred from running again by the Registration and Electoral Office.
If that worst-case scenario happens, then under “Plan B” of the pan-democrats, former lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee from the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood is likely to take his place and run instead.
But since Fung has already announced after his loss in the primary that he would retire from politics, it remains uncertain whether he is willing to take Yiu’s place in case the latter gets disqualified again.
Besides, even if Fung eventually agrees to replace Yiu, whether he can unite the pan-democrats is another question.
Indeed, the biggest headache for the pan-democrats at present may not be their pro-Beijing rivals, but rather, the issue of whether they can continue to stick together at least until March when the by-elections take place.
After Sunday’s primaries, Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, stressed that members of the pro-democracy camp must set aside their differences and put their old scores behind them in order to prevail in the upcoming by-elections.
That it is always easier said than done.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 16
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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