Mad dash to the finish
Just as I predicted, the Legislative Council election campaign has taken an ugly turn with scandals surfacing almost daily. Without any concrete political platform from either side, the only way to keep voters interested is to attack the other side. The easiest way is to expose opponents who have skeletons in the closet. Short of that, the Democratic Party chose to spend several hundred thousand dollars on press adverts to make the Liberals look bad.
At the final stage of the campaign, when the majority of voters have presumably made up their minds, attacking one's opponents is a somewhat belated act. It serves merely to occupy briefly the pages of newspapers. But when it comes to winning more votes, the effect is minimal. Like drug addicts, we need larger doses to satisfy our craving for the dark side of politics.
Most opinion surveys show that there may be more than 20 per cent of people still undecided about which list to vote for. They do not like candidates from the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong because they are too pro-government, but the democrats also turn them off. Now, with more scandals emerging, these people - and others who are joining their ranks - will think that no one is worth voting for, and the turnout rate will be much lower than expected. My guess is that it will be in the low 50 per cent range, much less than forecast by the democrats.
For those who do vote, many who previously opted for the Democratic Party will now support the barristers-turned-politicians, and the two Liberal Party candidates. Conventional wisdom also asserts that a low turnout rate will benefit the DAB candidates.
In any case, barring some Earth-shattering events, the pan-democrats will win no less than 24 and no more than 27 seats in the next legislature. Following this scenario, the present balance of power in the legislature will not, effectively, be upset. Legislators in the democratic camp will not be able to easily call the shots, although the government will remain a lame duck. But if the democrats try to win more than 27 seats to upset the balance, they will have to launch a full-frontal attack against Beijing and convince voters that they can reverse the decision on universal suffrage. The only way to do this would be to solicit outside help, especially from the United States.
On the other hand, should the DAB want to gain more seats, it must dig harder to come up with some real dirt on its opponents. A direct hit on the single democratic listing in the New Territories East would do most harm. My advice to those on the list is to do some soul-searching and, if necessary, pre-emptively come clean on any skeletons in their closet before they are exposed by the media.
A more conservative, but still effective, strategy would be to consolidate support. Since the district council elections in November, the DAB's image has become somewhat blurred. Some followers have deserted because they are no longer sure what they are voting for. Some have become so demoralised that they may not bother to vote, because they think the DAB will lose anyway. The DAB has to sharpen its image and show that it can win.
As for the barristers and the Liberal Party, they should not be fooled by high poll ratings. A high rating is one thing, converting it into actual votes is another. Short of manpower and experience, their only option is to innovate. Unfortunately, we have not seen much of this from them. After being practised for the past two decades, labour-intensive strategies will soon be worn out, while those borrowed from the Taiwan elections may not particularly suit the local culture.
Lau Nai-keung is a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate