24 March 2019
Frederick Fung (left) has pulled out as the pan-democrats back-up candidate for the Kowloon West seat for Legco by-elections, but the next in line, Ramon Yuen, is also not very popular. Photo: HKEJ
Frederick Fung (left) has pulled out as the pan-democrats back-up candidate for the Kowloon West seat for Legco by-elections, but the next in line, Ramon Yuen, is also not very popular. Photo: HKEJ

Old habits die hard for the pan-dems

Just when most people began to think that the pan-democrats had finally managed to pull themselves together and stay united in face of the upcoming Legco by-elections, it appears the notorious tradition of intense partisanship and infighting in the camp is rearing its ugly head again, and that too at a delicate moment.

In the primaries held on January 14, Edward Yiu Chung-yim finished first, and secured his candidacy for the by-election in the geographical constituency of Kowloon West.

However, since Yiu has been widely considered as being at high risk of getting disqualified again by the Registration and Electoral Office, the pan-democrats have devised a so-called “Plan B”.

Under this contingency plan, if, in the worst-case scenario, Yiu is barred from running, then former lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee of the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, who finished second in the primary, is going to assume candidacy and run on behalf of the pro-democracy camp instead.

Unfortunately, this is exactly where the trouble and conflict began. As rumors about the disqualification of Yiu by Beijing have continued to circulate in political circles, Fung becoming the back-up candidate of the pan-democrats under their Plan B had become increasingly a very real and imminent prospect.

However, there was a growing concern among the pan-dems that allowing Fung to run if Yiu is once again disqualified may seriously undermine their odds of retaking their lost Kowloon West seat since they believe Fung wouldn’t be of appeal to a wide demographic.

In their eyes, Fung is nothing more than a washed-up political has-been.

And the situation has been further compounded by the fact that some pan-democrats very much wanted to get rid of Fung and sought another back-up choice to replace him, as they don’t like Fung’s political views or his personal style.

In fact during the run-up to the primaries, Fung had already become the subject of mockery or even personal attacks among some young and more radical pan-democrats because of his age and his stubborn reluctance to quit despite his low popularity.

And over the past few days there have been mounting calls among the various factions of the pro-democracy camp, who are against Fung being the back-up candidate, to let other more prestigious heavyweights who haven’t taken part in the primaries run instead if Yiu is barred from contesting.

The heavyweights they suggested include former Civic Party chairman and lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit.

It is against this background that Fung, perhaps with a rather heavy heart, announced on Monday that he decided to unilaterally withdraw his name as a Plan B candidate in order to avoid exacerbating the split among his pan-democratic colleagues and jeopardizing the group’s chances of recovering the Kowloon West seat in the by-election.

With Fung now gone, Democratic Party’s Ramon Yuen Hoi-man, who finished third in the primary, has now become the official Plan B choice of the pan-dems “by default”.

Yet Fung’s voluntary departure doesn’t mean things are now hunky-dory in the pro-democracy camp, as its members could be facing yet another bigger predicament in the coming days.

It is because Yuen, now the Plan B candidate, is an even less popular and convincing figure than both Yiu and Fung, and it remains a big “if” as to whether he can command the respect and wholehearted support of the entire pro-democracy camp.

And if it turns out that most of the pan-dems are against Yuen being their Plan B choice, like they were against Fung, and once again call for overturning of the results of the primaries in order to seek someone else to replace him, that will definitely take an irreversible toll on the credibility and public image of the entire pro-democracy camp.

It is because if a farce like this really happens, then from now on it would be total hypocrisy whenever the pan-democrats urge Beijing to respect procedural justice and stop screening election candidates unfairly based on their political views, because the pan-dems themselves have done exactly the same things they are very much against.

In fact in our opinion, to avoid further fragmentation and self-destruction, what the pan-democrats should do right now is to immediately put an end to the useless arguments over who is more qualified to be their Plan B choice and stick to Yuen. Meanwhile, they should also prepare to fire on all cylinders and campaign for Yiu if he does get the seal of approval from the government to run in the by-elections.

In a nutshell, while disunity is going to cost the pan-dems their Kowloon West seat, disqualification of their own candidates by themselves will definitely cost them their moral authority.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 23

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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