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Legislative Council elections 2016

Will the disastrous Legco election result affect Beijing’s thinking on the next chief executive?

Mike Rowse says the pro-administration strategy failed on every count which, coupled with the rise of the so-called localists, may well have a bearing on next year’s leadership election in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 September, 2016, 4:53pm

The results of the recent Legislative Council election were nothing short of a disaster for the government. They could also have a major bearing on the outcome of next March’s chief executive election. The liaison office and Beijing have much food for thought.

Legco vote result insightful for Beijing ahead of Hong Kong chief executive race, think tank says

Start with the pre-election scenario. The administration hoped that lingering public anger over the Occupy disruption and excessive filibustering in Legco would provoke a backlash. “Vote them out” was the call from senior officials. The thinking was that pro-administration forces would gain a majority in the geographical seats, thus removing the obstacles to important legislation and reform of Legco procedures. In a best-case scenario, the opposition would win fewer than 24 seats and lose its blocking one-third veto.

Don’t let Legco elections become stage for promoting independence, warns Beijing’s top man in Hong Kong

The strategy, coordinated by the liaison office, was comprehensive and multifaceted: retain all 24 pro-administration seats in the 30 traditional functional constituencies, and pick off one or two of the opposition seats (IT and accountancy were targeted); whittle down further the opposition share of the vote in geographical seats, already down from 60 per cent to 55 per cent in recent years, to equal shares, so that the 18-17 division could be flipped around; and through superior organisation and strategic voting turn the 2-3 deficit among the five “super seats” into a 3-2 majority.

Overall, the pro-government 43-27 majority was reduced to 40-30

The strategy failed on every count. Among the traditional functional seats, 12 were retained unopposed (a scandal in itself) but two formerly safe pro-administration seats were lost for the first time (architectural, surveying, planning and landscape, plus medical) and all the opposition seats were retained, with increased majorities for the incumbents in the two target seats. So the 24-6 pro-administration majority was reduced to 22-8. In the geographical constituencies and the five super seats, the opposition vote share rose to 58 per cent. As a result, the 3-2 split of the super seats was comfortably retained and the opposition majority among the geographical seats increased from 18-17 to 19-16. Overall, the pro-government 43-27 majority was reduced to 40-30.

Although the pro-government share of the vote slipped only slightly, there was a radical change in the composition of the opposition. Those advocating a much more Hong Kong-centric line – localists, self-determinants, call them what you will – captured a full 20 per cent of the popular vote, mostly at the expense of the traditional pan-democrats, and now hold six seats in the 70-member chamber. The blue ribbon-yellow ribbon feud was a no-contest. The former melted at the polls while several high-profile Occupy participants were returned with tens of thousands of votes.

The people of Hong Kong have spoken loudly and clearly: they are not happy with developments and want the “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy” formula implemented properly. The ultra hard line, as represented by the White Paper of August 31, 2014, and the woeful political reform package, were emphatically rejected.

The Communist Party does not ‘do’ weakness and might be just as inclined to circle the wagons and retain Leung

At a seminar in Baptist University on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival, moderator Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan suggested a one-word summary of the election results might be “resistance”. Many attendees thought the results meant the end of the road for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, as Beijing would think twice before imposing such a divisive figure on the local community for another four years. I think such a conclusion would be premature and contains a degree of wishful thinking. The Communist Party does not “do” weakness and might be just as inclined to circle the wagons, retain Leung and leave the management of Legco to a more conciliatory chief secretary if such can be found.

Another option might be to pause and allow other acceptable names to float in public to gauge the reaction. Two of them share the same surname. One appeared to be distancing himself from a controversial government decision last week, albeit for only a few hours. The party does not do dissent either, which could leave the way clear for the other. Step forward Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk