Pan-dems, localists may square off in Legco NTE by-election

January 17, 2019 11:54
There is talk that the localist faction is considering fielding its own candidate in the race with the aim of regrouping and preventing the further erosion of its support base. Photo: Bloomberg

While pan-democrats are still licking their wounds from their defeat in the two Legislative Council by-elections in 2018, they are also looking forward to two more elections under the “single seat, single vote” system this year. 

District Council elections are scheduled for November and a by-election may be held for the Legco New Territories East (NTE) geographical constituency, depending on the result of the appeal filed by ousted lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung against a lower court's ruling on his disqualification.  

“Long Hair” has made it clear that he would be eagerly “at the pan-dems’ disposal” as to who will run in the NTE by-election. 

If a by-poll does take place, it is highly possible that Leung may run again for his old seat. 

However, the possibility that the pro-democracy camp will be beset by in-fighting is not remote. There is talk that the localist faction is also considering fielding its own candidate in the race with the aim of regrouping and preventing its support base, built from its participation in past elections, from being eroded further. 

There is also talk that a group of the localists intends to run in this year's District Councils race and they are proactively considering selecting one person among them to run in the Legco by-election in NTE. 

According to sources, localist groups have listed the conditions for a candidate to represent them in the race. The conditions are that he or she has never taken part in any political election before, the prospective candidate has received little media attention in the past so as to minimize the chances of getting disqualified again by the returning officer using evidence gathered against him or her. 

Former Hong Kong Indigenous spokesman Edward Leung Tin-kei garnered more than 66,000 votes in the 2016 Legco by-election in NTE, which was impressive. But a member of the localist faction  noted that the popularity of their bloc has seen a significant decline over the past several years, and as such, fielding their own candidate may not make much of a difference in the outcome of the by-election. 

The pan-dems, too, are not too optimistic about their chances of retaking the lost seat in NTE. 

As a pan-democratic figure has pointed out, their defeat in the two Legco by-elections last year indicates that voter support for the pro-democracy camp has been rapidly diminishing. 

Unless they can fully mobilize their support base in NTE again, and succeed in coordinating with other groups who are not pro-establishment, the pan-dems would have a hard time reclaiming the lost Legco seat, the source said. 

As for the pro-establishment camp, they could field another rookie to run in the NTE by-poll to test the waters. They want to replicate the victory of Chan Hoi-yan in Kowloon West last November by fielding a moderate candidate who is appealing to centrist voters. 

But it is still too early to tell who the pro-establishment camp is eventually going to field. At the end of the day, it is Beijing’s liaison office that has the last word on the choice of candidate. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 7 

Translation by Alan Lee 

[Chinese version 中文版

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.