Liaison Office prefers Legco old-timers to stay in 2020 race

February 12, 2020 18:19
Amid growing doubts over the prospects of the pro-establishment camp in the upcoming Legco election, Beijing is said to be prodding some long-standing incumbents in the functional constituencies to give up their retirement plans. Photo: Bloomberg

As the pro-establishment camp continues to lick its wounds from the crushing defeat it suffered in the District Council polls late last year, the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, which has spilled over from across the border and poses a grave risk to the Hong Kong economy, threatens to undermine the prospects of pro-Beijing candidates further in the September 2020 Legislative Council election.

Given the grim electoral prospects of the pro-establishment camp, there has been chatter in the political circles that in order to avoid losing a massive number of seats in Legco, Beijing’s Liaison Office has decided to call a halt to the succession plans of a number of aging pro-establishment incumbents in the functional constituencies.

Instead, the Liaison Office would rather have them stick around for four more years.

It is because as the tide of public opinion has turned in the pan-dems' favor as a result of the anti-extradition bill saga, and as the pneumonia epidemic continues to worsen, the odds are increasingly stacked against the pro-establishment camp in certain functional constituency sectors which have long remained pro-Beijing strongholds over the years.

As such, the Liaison Office is now twisting the arm of a number of pro-establishment incumbents, who had initially planned to retire, to make them stick around for another term since it believes old-timers are likely to stand a better chance of winning than young rookies in the face of pro-democracy challengers.

Among the pro-Beijing incumbents who are now being talked into postponing their retirement plans is Ma Fung-kwok, the sitting lawmaker representing the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication sector in the Legco functional constituency.

Meanwhile, according to sources, the pro-establishment sitting lawmakers representing the tourism and insurance sectors have also been asked to run for another term.

Reaching the age of 65 by the time he serves out his current term, Ma had been a lawmaker for two consecutive terms.

Earlier, there was talk in the political circles that Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, the eldest grandson of the late tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung, was urged by the sports community to run for Legco and retake the seat representing the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication sector which was formerly held by his father Timothy Fok Tsun-ting.

In the meantime, the pro-democracy camp is also aggressively having discussions on the choice of a candidate for this seat, which has remained firmly in the hands of the establishment bloc for years.

It is said that some members of the pan-democratic camp are now encouraging pro-democracy songwriter Adrian Chow Pok-yin, who ran against Ma in the 2016 Legco race but lost by a margin of 580 votes, to stage a comeback in the September 2020 election.

Amid the pan-dems' full-scale onslaught on the Legco functional constituency seats, sources have revealed that in order to play safe and reduce the risk of losing seats to the minimum, Beijing’s Liaison Office has decided that Ma should defer his retirement plan and run for another term in September.

In response to an inquiry, Ma said that he would be glad to pass the torch to someone younger. But he also said that whether or not he would seek re-election this time will depend on the opinions and needs of the sector he represents.

Ma said he is doing as much as he can in terms of his duty as a lawmaker at this point.

As far as Fok is concerned, he said that he would not respond to rumors or speculation. However, the absence of firm denial suggests that joining the Legco cannot be ruled out at this point.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 10

Translation by Alan Lee

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.