Despite the relatively high turnout and a clear victory for the pro-establishment camp, last Sunday's district council elections appeared pretty lacklustre on the surface.
But, looking deeper at the results, the signs are not good for our pro-democracy politicians. They obviously felt the heat. And, though some found an easy scapegoat in the central government's liaison office, they failed to substantiate their claims. Failing to learn from this defeat will lead them right into another one next September.
Right from the beginning, most pro-democracy parties paid very little respect to the work of the district councils and, as a result, very little attention to the elections. Even the Democratic Party sees its district councillors only as 'pillars' to support its lawmakers in their elections.
The rest regard district councillors as public 'plumbers' and the election as a platform to express their pet political statements and rehearse mobilisation for Legislative Council elections.
In contrast, most pro-establishment parties and politicians are deadly serious about community work and they pursued district council seats with dogged determination. It was a battle between professionals and amateurs. If the pan-democrats choose to ignore the writing on the wall, they'll pay the price.
Some blamed their defeat on the sudden surge of pro-establishment supporters turning up on polling day. Analysts from the pro-democracy camp suggested that the support of these new voters, usually people aged above 50, was being manipulated by the liaison office. But voter registration is an open field and is encouraged by the government. How could these pan-democrats accuse others of foul play while they themselves were being lazy and sloppy?
The pan-democrats made a fatal strategic mistake by narrowing their front, leaving over 70 seats uncontested, a 50 per cent increase over the last election. It is true that this strategy might have restricted their loss - they won 13 seats fewer than at the last election, or about 4 per cent of the total - but it freed up more of their opponents' resources to be used against them in those seats that were being contested, making the fight a lot harder.
This hurt especially those star lawmaker-politicians who parachuted into totally new constituencies with an eye on the five territory-wide, directly elected 'super district councillor' seats. With no concrete community work behind them, political slogans alone simply fell short. One by one, most of them lost. The outcome is that now the pro-establishment camp has more potential candidates for these coveted seats in the Legislative Council election next year.
The pan-democrats also totally misjudged the political mood in Hong Kong. True, there is a lot of frustration among citizens, especially the younger generations, but, starting this year, the pan-democrats have failed time and again to mobilise their supporters, and the number of participants in their protest rallies is dwindling.
However, they disregarded this adverse trend and, out of wishful thinking, wanted to repeat their 2003 gambit of making this election one about Politics with a capital 'P'.
On Sunday, as I passed a black-and-white banner in Central declaring 'an end to one-party dictatorship', I could not help but laugh. You do not even have to guess that this candidate lost, sunk almost without trace. He posed no threat to his pro-establishment opponent, nor to the candidate from the Democratic Party, whom he claimed to challenge.
Candidates like him were vaporised in this election, and their losses largely contributed to the poor overall record of the pan-democrat camp.
So, don't be misled by the media as the 4 per cent seat loss on the part of pan-democrats is not that substantial. They are now playing cry babies to win cheap sympathy from the community, in the hope of steering a turnaround next year.
Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development