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Legislative Council elections 2016

Major Hong Kong parties face leadership quandaries in wake of Legislative Council elections

The pressure is on for political groups to rejuvenate their leadership after many young candidates were elected to the legislature

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 September, 2016, 11:29pm

When the last ballots were counted and the new face of the Legislative Council emerged, it was the picture of youth that captured headlines.

As the two traditional political blocs watch this younger generation head into the legislature, they must look at their own greying ranks and wonder about their own leadership renewal. Do they have enough young people in the wings or are they doomed to seeing their numbers decline?

On Monday, Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a 23-year-old university student, became the youngest ever candidate to be elected to Legco. Several other winners from both sides of the political divide are also in their late 20s or early 30s, while a number of veterans, in their 60s, were defeated.

They included the Federation of Trade Unions’ Wong Kwok-hing, 67, and the Liberal Party’s honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun, 69. In the aftermath of the defeat, both parties are understood to be searching for a new leader among their lawmakers.

For the FTU, Wong’s failure to retain outgoing colleague Chan Yuen-han’s “super seat” – one of five elected by 3.5 million registered voters – means that 64-year-old Wong Kwok-kin, who has been a lawmaker for eight years, will have the most experience. He will probably be the preferred leader of the FTU’s five lawmakers in the coming term.

The federation’s Alice Mak Mei-kuen and Kwok Wai-keung won their second Legco term, while the other two were newly returned without contest.

Wong Kwok-kin could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but Kwok, 38, said he would have no objection if Wong was willing to take up the post, as he himself was not experienced enough to do so.

“I would rather continue to specialise in legislation and labour issues,” he said.

Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said that with the election setbacks, the FTU’s political influence was likely to decline in the coming years regardless of who among the five took the lead. “[The FTU’s three] directly elected lawmakers are also not as well known as Chan [Yuen-han],” Ma said.

But he told the Post the Liberal Party could be facing an even bigger problem after party leader Vincent Fang Kang retired and their iconic lawmaker James Tien Pei-chun lost the party’s only geographical seat in New Territories East on Sunday. Tien was placed second on the party list behind Dominic Lee Tsz-king in the hope that Lee could get a seat, but that strategy failed.

It’s unlikely to be me because I am the chairman already. How can I do so many things?
Liberal Felix Chung

The party’s chairman, Felix Chung Kwok-pan, 52, said the Liberals would elect a new leader in the near future, but he admitted that with just four lawmakers left in the party, the choice was likely to be between transport representative Frankie Yick Chi-ming, 62, and catering veteran Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, 66. “It’s unlikely to be me because I am the chairman already. How can I do so many things?” the textile and garment lawmaker said.

The party’s 46-year-old vice-chairman, Peter Shiu Ka-fai, newly elected in the wholesale and retail sector, said he would not take up the party’s leadership because he was “a novice”.

Ma said it would be difficult for the Liberals “to build up its brand” without an elected legislator.

“In the run-up to the poll, the Liberals had to rely on its founding chairman, Allen Lee Peng-fei, to canvass votes for [Dominic] Lee. It showed the party failed to groom even one new star who can win a direct election,” he lamented.

The shortage of young leaders raises questions about whether the pro-establishment camp will look jaded compared to the rising stars on the other side of the aisle.

But lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan, 40, the caucus convenor of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, dismissed such concerns. “Someone will emerge after our term starts next month,” Chan said.

The DAB did not have a leadership issue, Chan insisted, adding that the younger ones re-elected would assume a bigger role soon.

In the pan-democratic camp, Civic Party vice-chairwoman Tanya Chan is tipped to take over from Alan Leong Kah-kit as party leader. But in a press conference on Tuesday, Leong, who is retiring, said the issue would be decided by his six party colleagues elected on Sunday.

Former legislator Cheung Man-kwong revealed that the Democrats would discuss whether to change party rules and follow the example of the Civic and Liberal parties to elect a party leader so the chairman could focus on Legco work. Right now the party chairman performs both roles.

However the rules are changed, the stark facts are that renewal must be front and centre of the traditional political blocs. The other option is a slow decline.

Additional Reporting by Jeffie Lam and Joyce Ng