With election dust settled, eyes turn towards Beijing

The central government's attitude towards pan-democrats will be closely watched

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 4:20am

The election is over and the results are in. But who really won, the pan-democrats or the pro-establishment camp? The answer is not clear.

The performance of the leading party in each block illustrates the puzzle.

The Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong saw all of its nine slates in the five geographical constituencies win, thanks to the skilful allocation of votes. But the strategy did not work in the city-wide "super seats" poll, where DAB chairman Lau Kong-wah was defeated.

It was quite the opposite for the Democratic Party, which lost three of its directly elected seats, forcing chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan to resign. But Ho was elected to a "super seat".

Ho dismissed suggestions his party's failure was down to its talks with the central government's liaison office about constitutional reform two years ago. Some pan-democrats saw the talks as a "betrayal", but Ho said the party would continue to seek dialogue with Beijing, albeit taking more care to speak to the right officials and choose the right venue.

It's not unusual for pan-democrats to attack pro-establishment candidates or independents, about "red" connections, but this time the accusation spread to their own camp. Some were attacked for joining organised trips to the mainland. Others, including staunch anti-communists, were reported to have business arrangements with Beijing.

Those being attacked, of course, said contact with the mainland did not mean they were being brainwashed and had nothing to do with politics.

To look at it from another point of view, there is no such thing as a free lunch in politics. Fine dining with Beijing officials, trips to the mainland or business deals can form part of the political game in which Beijing tries to influence Hong Kong's politicians … and vice-versa.

Political skills are as important to lawmakers as their policy stance. They must wrestle with the interests of the public, the government, political parties, interests groups and Beijing.

Much has been said about how much tougher it will be for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to lobby support in a Legco with more radical members.

There's a warning in all of this to Beijing. Why, 15 years after the handover, are radicals gaining support? How will Beijing treat the fragmented pan-democratic camp, including radicals?

More than seven years have passed since lawmakers were invited to an "ice-breaking" visit to Guangdong. But relations between pan-democrats and the central government soon soured due to a lack of mutual trust. Beijing's attitude towards pan-democrats could be decisive in determining how far radical politics will go in Hong Kong. And that will have a direct impact on Leung's ability to govern.

Hopefully, there will be a clearer sign from Beijing of how the "ice" can again be broken after the 18th party congress, which will shape China's new leadership.

Today, Leung will invite newly elected lawmakers to lunch. How many pan-democrats show up will indicate how difficult it could be for him to cultivate a manageable relationship with Legco.