Infighting could dash hopes of pro-government parties in HK legco election
In the third part of a series on the Legco geographical constituencies, we look at Kowloon East
In past Legislative Council elections, the rivalry within the pro-establishment camp rarely rose to the surface. This carefully orchestrated and party-whipped harmonious veneer is close to cracking open this year - a breakdown best illustrated in Kowloon East, where Beijing-loyalist candidates face a fiery battle for the constituency's fifth seat - added under electoral reforms in 2010.
While the conservatives and the pan-democrats have two seats each there, at the last election the former bloc's two representatives - the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's Chan Kam-lam and the Federation of Trade Unions' (FTU) Wong Kwok-kin - got more votes than the Democratic Party's Fred Li Wah-ming and the Civic Party's Alan Leong Ka-kit. Two other pan-democratic slates, headed by Democrat Wu Chi-wai and the League of Social Democrats' Andrew To Kwan-hang, failed to win a seat.
Just when the pro-establishment incumbents hoped to repeat that performance this year, in came Paul Tse Wai-chun, who parachuted into the constituency after spending the past four years as the lawmaker for the tourism sector. Grievances loom as Tse - who had no previous presence in the constituency - arrived with an extensive network of grass-roots support, seen by pan-democrats as the handiwork of the central government's liaison office.
The pan-democrats have long accused the liaison office - the central authorities' de facto representative in Hong Kong - of intervening in local politics by co-ordinating and even funding the campaigns of candidates.
"The key is in how the votes leaked by Li will flow," said Wong, referring to the veteran lawmaker who gained a seat in 2008 with 48,124 votes. Li is not seeking another term, with Wu the party's lone torch-bearer this year.
"Wu would not be able to hold all the votes for Li so everyone would be competing for that slice," said Wong. "I am fighting a very hard battle as Tse is helped by even more district councillors than I am in terms of campaigning."
Even the DAB's Chan, seen as a shoo-in, said he was worried Tse would take a share of his votes.
Chan, a two-term lawmaker in the constituency, denied having any co-ordination with Tse, as Wong Tai Sin district councillor Lee Tat-yan, who helped Chan in his 2004 campaign, has backed Tse.
"Everyone is free to choose who they want to support," Chan said.
A poster for a free legal advice tour showed Tse working with 22 district councillors in Kwun Tong and Wong Tai Sin.
Hsu Hoi-shan, a district councillor representing the Kwun Tong ward of Yuet Wah, has dedicated one of the eight pages of his half-yearly work report - which has been sent to his voters - with the "achievements" and images of Tse.
Hsu, who claims to be independent, admitted he was helping Tse. "He has principles and is willing to speak up," said Hsu.
Tse also received help from a number of charities and welfare groups such as the Kwun Tong Association for the Elderly. The association, a registered charity which applied for district council funding, invited Tse to mingle with the elderly at a tea gathering a month before nominations began.
Tse insisted he was an independent, despite admitting that the liaison office "was okay with his Legco bid". "The liaison office is not against my participation. But I work as an independent who built up my own network - comprising over 20 district councillors - one by one," said Tse, also a solicitor.
Not that the pan-democrats are free from infighting. Uncertainty looms with former party comrades and candidates with similar styles clashing. Leong is pitched against former Civic Party member Mandy Tam Heung-man.
Meanwhile, the league's To competes for the radical pro-democracy vote with People Power candidate Wong Yeung-tat. Also running in the constituency is a slate led by Kay Yim Fung-chi.