Has democracy camp lost its appeal after two election defeats?

December 06, 2018 08:30
The democracy camp's candidate Lee Cheuk-yan lost in the Legislative Council by-elections in Kowloon West last week. Photo: HKEJ

Don’t ever read too much into an election outcome. Doing so could make you misjudge which way voters are leaning in the next election. Never forget that an election outcome reflects only the mood of voters at a given time. An electorate’s mood is fickle. It can swing wildly depending on the issues and the candidates at the time of the election.

The surprise election victories of Donald Trump in the United States, Mahathir bin Mohamad in Malaysia, Imran Khan in Pakistan, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the Maldives, the regaining of the House of Representatives by the Democrats in the US midterm elections, and the British public’s vote to leave the European Union all show how risky it is to guess future public sentiment.

Hong Kong’s pro-government camp is gloating over its Legislative Council by-election victories in Kowloon West last week and in March this year. Camp stalwarts such as Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, Starry Lee Wai-king, and Tam Yiu-chung believe two consecutive wins in a constituency that traditionally supports the democracy camp proves public sentiment has turned against the camp.

That is a brash belief which could cause them to eat their words in future elections. To proclaim that two by-elections within months in the same constituency prove voters are starting to abandon the democracy camp is wishful thinking at best and politically naïve at worst.

It is foolish to use by-election outcomes from just one constituency to gauge current city-wide public sentiment. It is even more foolish to use the outcomes to gauge future city-wide voter sentiment. Even though the establishment camp’s Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan defeated the democracy camp’s Lee Cheuk-yan in last week’s Kowloon West by-election, it is in no way definitive proof the tide has turned so much that Chan is sure to win against the democrats in future elections.

Could Chan have won if the government hadn’t disqualified the opposition’s Lau Siu-lai? No one can say for sure, but such a contest would at least have been a better gauge of whether voters are abandoning the opposition. Could Chan triumph in a face-off in Kowloon West against Demosistō's Agnes Chow Ting who also was disqualified as a Hong Kong Island constituency candidate in the by-election in March?

Could Chan defeat the opposition’s Eddie Chu Hoi-dick in any given constituency? Chu got the highest number of votes in the geographical constituencies in the 2016 election when he won a seat in the New Territories West constituency. It would be prudent for the establishment camp to ask itself these questions before jumping to conclusions that the democracy camp has lost its appeal.

The way I see it, the establishment camp didn't win the election; the democracy camp lost it. That may sound like double-talk but it’s not. The establishment camp won only because the cards were stacked against the opposition from the start. Its most popular candidates had been disqualified by the government. That alone distorted the election.

Lee Cheuk-yan, whose star is already fading, was a fallback candidate after the government disqualified Lau Siu-lai. Frederick Fung Kin-kee, disowned by the democracy camp, became a spoiler candidate who thinned Lee’s total vote count. I don’t buy the argument that Chan would have won anyway because she had slightly more votes than the combined votes of Lee and Fung. I believe more opposition supporters would have voted if Fung hadn’t joined the race.

Winning is nothing to boast about when the cards are stacked against the other side. The cards are further being stacked against the opposition with the disqualification of legislator Chu Hoi-dick as a rural election candidate. Some from the establishment camp are now even agitating to expel Chu from Legco because even though he himself opposes Hong Kong independence, he said others are free to choose whether they oppose it too. Surely, it is reasonable for Chu to say he cannot speak for others.

I have said many times that Hong Kong independence is a fool’s dream. Hong Kong is a rightful part of China and nothing can or should change that. But if Andy Chan Ho-tin of the now banned National Party foolishly supports independence, what right do I have to demand he should not support it?

Saying this doesn’t mean I am anti-establishment. In fact, people have mocked me as a Beijing apologist. The record will show that although I am all for democracy, I was against Occupy Central for the disruption it caused to so many people. The record will also show I have said Occupy was not entirely peaceful and that viewed from the eyes of the police they had no choice but to use tear gas. I have also said what happened in Mong Kok on the night of February 8, 2016 was a full-scale riot.

But what’s happened in Hong Kong in the past months have bothered me more than the Occupy movement and the Mong Kok riots. Disqualifying election candidates, expelling foreign journalists, and moving goalposts on free speech were totally alien to the Hong Kong where I was born and bred but it’s happening now.

I can fully understand Beijing’s fear that external forces could use Hong Kong to threaten national security but after more than 20 years of reunification, mainland officials should understand the vast majority of Hong Kong people would not even dream of allowing external forces to undermine China.

Disqualifying opposition candidates from elections, expelling journalists, and limiting free speech will not make Hong Kong people more patriotic, it will make them less so. That, in effect, will make Hong Kong more vulnerable as a base for external forces to threaten China’s national security.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.