Chow Pak-chin says recent by-election shows the opposition camp has lost credibility with the public and many of their political platforms are out of date
The recent Hong Kong Legislative Council by-election for the Kowloon West constituency was a severe setback for the “pan-democrats”. It was not just a one-off wake-up call, it was the latest of a series of alarm bells ringing across the board. The dramatic results of the by-election clearly illustrates that the opposition camp has fallen out of favour with the majority of voters, including their long-term and previously loyal supporters.
The victory of pro-establishment candidate Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan has dashed the anti-establishment camp’s lingering hopes of regaining the crucial veto power in the legislature. It also ended the legacy of the “6:4 golden ratio”, under which the “pan-democrats” always garnered 60 percent of the ballots while the pro-establishment parties would take up the remainder.
Chan, with 106,457 votes — 13,410 more than her main rival, LegCo veteran Lee Cheuk-yan — undoubtedly won by a considerable margin. As a result of the by-election, the “pan-democrats” are outnumbered in the LegCo geographical constituencies at 16 to 18.
The Kowloon West by-election has put the waning support of the anti-establishment camp under the spotlight. What has gone so patently wrong? They might still be in a state of denial, but the stark reality is that they are reaping what they sowed. Their political platforms, which peddle the usual anti-communist and fear-mongering stance, are outdated. Their self-righteousness and arrogance are beyond belief. And they have lost touch with reality and, most importantly, their voters.
The dramatic results of the by-election clearly illustrates that the opposition camp has fallen out of favour with the majority of voters, including their long-term and previously loyal supporters
The anti-establishment camp has also been plagued by their never-ending infighting. Hot on the heels of fighting among themselves over the Kowloon West seat, the Democratic Party is being split down the middle as more mutiny in the Lam Cheuk-ting faction appears in media reports.
The “pan-democrats” seem to be at a loss and have long been struggling to keep their heads above the waves of political turmoil over the past few years. Voters and their long-time supporters have mostly become disillusioned seeing the “pan-democrats” constantly playing the blame game without showing any effective leadership.
With the latest defeat, some “pan-democrats” blamed vote-splitting as the main cause of Lee’s failure. They claimed that Lee’s campaign suffered because former “pan-dem” ally Frederick Fung Kin-kee decided to go it alone instead of campaigning to support Lee.
Simple arithmetic shows that, even if Fung had not run and rallied behind Lee, his 12,509 ballots would have done little to boost Lee’s chances of victory.
If we look at the results more closely, it is not difficult to see that the pro-establishment camp did the bare minimum and maintained support from their regular base of voters. Lee’s failure was indicative of the fact that voters have, in general, abandoned the “pan-democratic” camp.
The slippery slope that the “pan-democrats” stepped on can be traced back to the 2016 LegCo elections, in which many of their veterans including Lee Cheuk-yan failed to be re-elected into the legislature.
So for the “pan-democrats” the rot had set in before the change of government. The signs of their weakening political influence both inside and outside of the legislature were obvious. No matter how the “pan-dem” leaders chose to ignore the bitter lessons, the realities have been driven home: In that decisive election, Lee’s Labour Party seats were slashed from four to one.
Two years on, Lee and others in the “pan-democratic” camp do not seem to have learned their lesson: The voters have given up on them because they feel that the party has turned their back on them.
The same voter discontent was on full display this time round in last month’s by-election. The “pan-democrats” made limited efforts to reform their campaigning, and even in the wake of post-election defeat they displayed no grace.
Compounding their losses, the “pan-democrats” have continued to disappoint the millennials. This, without a doubt, needs to be changed because young voters do not care about political bigwigs. They are only concerned about practical issues that affect their livelihoods and well-being.
After the by-election defeat, Lee apologized to his supporters and vowed to reflect on his campaign to find out “what vision for Hong Kong the people who didn’t vote for me have in their minds”.
He also highlighted — or blamed, rather — a number of factors that might have affected his chances. They included what he claimed a “smear campaign”, as well as a general sense of political apathy.
The “pan-democratic” camp has also reassured the public that they would review and assess the latest by-election saga.
The public and their supporters should not hold their breath. Nothing will come of their so-called reviews. Those who are in LegCo will try to hang on by the skin of their teeth and enjoy handsome salaries and allowances as LegCo members. Those who have lost their seats still try to get back in by pandering fear and distrusts, which are well past their sell-by dates. Voters are not the only ones that are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the “pan-democratic” camp, due to their lack of leadership to effect changes.
Meanwhile, the camp remains unprepared and disorganized in the aftermath of the latest by-election. With this in mind, the best strategy is for the government to set a high aspiration and further weaken this opposition camp.
What are now the practical consequences? Given the majority in both the geographical and functional constituencies, it’s time for the government to take this opportunity to push ahead with important legislation such as Article 23. The practical window to enact the national security legislation under this article is now or never.
Popularity is the most valuable currency in politics, no matter the state of the political climate, and the “pan-democrats” have effectively gone bankrupt in this regard. It will take a long time before they can win back voter approval and become politically solvent again.
The author is president of Wisdom Hong Kong, a local think tank
HONG KONG NEWS