25 June 2019
In the Kowloon West by-election, pan-democratic candidate Edward Yiu (left) lost to his pro-Beijing rival by a slim margin of  2,400 votes. Photo: HKEJ
In the Kowloon West by-election, pan-democratic candidate Edward Yiu (left) lost to his pro-Beijing rival by a slim margin of 2,400 votes. Photo: HKEJ

Pan-dems only have themselves to blame for election setback

The pan-democrats suffered a major and unexpected setback in the Legislative Council by-elections on Sunday. They only managed to reclaim two of their four lost seats: Au Nok-hin won the Hong Kong Island seat and Gary Fan Kwok-wai prevailed in the New Territories East.

Vincent Cheng Wing-shun of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), who had been widely seen as an underdog prior to the election, pulled off a major upset and defeated the pan-democratic favorite Edward Yiu Chung-yim by a narrow margin of 2,400 votes in the Kowloon West constituency.

Cheng’s triumph over Yiu was both remarkable and historic for the pro-Beijing camp: it was the first ever time that a pro-establishment candidate was able to beat a pan-dem rival in a Legco by-election since the handover.

Yiu’s defeat also debunked the long-standing myth that pan-democratic candidates would always prevail over their pro-establishment competitors under the “single-seat, single-vote” system.

And thanks to Cheng’s surprise victory, the pro-establishment camp still holds a 17-16 majority over the pan-democrats in the geographical constituency in Legco, thereby enabling it to retain its veto power in the legislature under the split voting system.

Some commentators have attributed Cheng’s triumph to the relatively moderate governing approach adopted by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, which, they believed, has substantially reduced the number of “hate votes” by anti-government voters.

True, the currently more relaxed and harmonious political atmosphere under Carrie Lam is one of the contributing factors to the pro-Beijing camp’s election victory.

However, we believe the most fundamental reason behind the pro-establishment camp’s prevalence in this election is, once again, the in-fighting and disunity in the pro-democracy camp.

Suffice it to say that the pan-dems only have themselves to blame for their highly unsatisfactory election results.

As it turns out, the heated controversies within the pro-democracy camp over its so-called “Plan B” arrangement have taken a heavy toll on the pan-dems’ popularity and alienated a lot of centrist and moderate voters.

The dispute eventually led to the withdrawal of Frederick Fung Kin-kee of the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL), who finished second in the primaries back in January and was supposedly the legitimate substitute for Yiu in case he was disqualified again.

That the pan-democrats themselves were attempting to overturn the results of their primaries at the expense of procedural justice and handpick another substitute for Yiu, the kind of unfair practice that they have been very much against over the years, has obviously upset a lot of Fung’s supporters and dismayed other moderate pro-democracy voters.

That probably explains why Yiu, despite being the sole candidate for the pro-democracy camp, lost to his pro-Beijing rival in many of the traditional ADPL strongholds.

Yiu only managed to secure some 100,000 out of the total 160,000 votes which the pro-democracy camp had snapped back in the 2016 Legco election, which means he lost nearly 34 percent of the votes among the support base of the pan-dems in Kowloon West on Sunday.

In contrast, Cheng of the DAB was able to retain the 100,000 votes cast for pro-Beijing candidates Ann Chiang Lai-wan and Priscilla Leung Mei-fun in the last election, and hence his razor-thin victory over Yiu.

Apart from intense infighting among the pan-dems, the poor campaign tactics adopted by Yiu also turned out to be his undoing.

His campaign theme of “saying no to disqualification” has failed to resonate with his target audience, not to mention that he appeared to have spent too much time in online campaign while ignoring the necessity to actually reach out and speak to his voters face to face.

The results of the Legco by-elections on Sunday were indeed a wake-up call for the pan-democrats, and also put an end to the myth of the so-called “6:4 golden ratio”, i.e., pan-dems would always get 60 percent of the popular votes in a single-seat, single-vote election.

That said, perhaps the most urgent task lying before the pan-dems right now is to stop their infighting immediately and reflect on their defeat. Only by doing so can they stand a fighting chance of turning the tables on the pro-Beijing camp in the next by-elections.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 13

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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