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PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 6:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 1:42am

Democrats' by-election defeat was on the cards long before a vote was cast

Albert Cheng believes the outcome had more to do with the party's political baggage and tarnished reputation than rise of radical forces

BIO

Ir. Albert Cheng is the founder of Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited, a current affairs commentator and columnist. He was formerly a direct elected Hong Kong SAR Legislative Councillor. Mr Cheng was voted by Time Magazine in 1997 as one of "the 25 most influential people in new Hong Kong" and selected by Business Week in 1998 as one of "the 50 stars of Asia".  
 

The dust has settled on the Southern District Council by-election with the seat going to Judy Chan Ka-pui of the pro-establishment New People's Party. She got 2,023 votes.

The other two candidates, the Democratic Party's Sin Chung-kai and People Power's Erica Yuen Mi-ming received 920 and 1,083 votes respectively.

After the result, some media and political commentators came up with a superficial analysis, claiming that it showed radical democratic forces are replacing those from the mild democratic camp, which should sound alarm bells for the latter.

They further deduced that this would hinder negotiations on political reform, making it even more difficult to form a consensus.

We can set aside, for now, the debate about whether the by-election outcome will affect political reform talks. However, it's clearly not true to claim that the result indicates the rise of radical democratic powers.

In fact, South Horizons West is a traditional middle-class constituency, which means the majority of voters are conservative.

Many residents are believed to be civil servants, working for the disciplined services. New mainland migrants have also moved into the area in recent years, benefiting the pro-government New People's Party. The by-election outcome has again proved that the pro-government camp has a firm grip on the vote.

Sin embodies the traditional middle-class image, which should have been perfect for this constituency but for the fact that he had to shoulder his party's political baggage. In this case, we're not talking about the fact the Democrats supported the government's political reform package in 2010, which was seen as a betrayal of democracy and Hongkongers by the radical democratic camp. After all, at least half the people who support democracy agree with the Democratic Party's milder, conciliatory approach.

Political baggage in this case actually refers to the fact the by-election was triggered when then Democrat Andrew Fung Wai-kwong resigned from his seat last year to become information co-ordinator for the Chief Executive's Office.

Fung had earlier accused Ronald Chan Ngok-pang, of the New People's Party, of betraying voters when he became a political assistant. So Fung's resignation was a big slap in the face for his supporters who felt they had been treated with disrespect, and his action tarnished his party's reputation. If the Democratic Party had been more politically savvy, it would not have taken part in the by-election, but instead supported other pan-democratic candidates to earn back public respect. The result would have been very different.

Another problem was Sin himself. As a legislator, he failed to pull out all the stops by campaigning for community support day in, day out. Instead, he resorted to political grandstanding on popular issues to gain media exposure.

The Democratic Party's image has been further sullied by the inappropriate behaviour of former party chief Albert Ho Chun-yan, who was caught looking at photos of semi-naked young models while the financial secretary was delivering his budget speech. That also affected its chances in the by-election.

So, all in all, it's wrong to say that Sin lost - and also received the lowest number of votes - because of his mild political image. Had he packaged himself as a radical democrat, the outcome might have been even worse because that's not what is needed in the constituency.

As for the other candidate, Yuen, the number of votes she garnered proved that voters bought into her image and definitely didn't go for the radical approach. As a Miss Hong Kong runner-up and graduate from a top US university, she has both looks and talent, making her a perfect fit for the constituency. That's why she got more votes than Sin, a veteran politician.

One factor that might have worked against Yuen is the radical image of People Power, given that the public still associates the party with its founders Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan Wai-yip. Still, if the Democratic Party had put pan-democratic interests first and thrown its weight behind Yuen, she would have won easily.

The Democratic Party was clearly the biggest loser; it seems to have lost its political bearings. As a result, it can't please voters on either side of the political spectrum. To make matters worse, the party has been plagued by personnel problems.

District Council elections, unlike Legislative Council polls, mostly depend on the personal qualities of candidates rather than political stance or a politician's image.

Diligence is a key factor in winning votes. And during the campaign period, candidates must make their presence felt in the district, day in and day out, to ensure voters know them and what they stand for.

The writing was on the wall before the by-election. The outcome simply reinforced it.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk

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