Legislative Council elections 2016

Can Hong Kong’s pan-democrats rise to the challenge of the localist trend?

John Chan says with voter support for the pro-establishment camp holding steady, the democratic camp’s majority in the geographical constituencies in the legislature is under threat

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 11:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 6:16pm

If the University of Hong Kong opinion polls can be believed, voter preferences for the five “super seats” in Sunday’s Legislative Council election signal a rise in overall support for the pro-establishment camp. The Beijing-friendly camp now commands 45 per cent of the vote share, compared with the widely believed 40 per cent in the past.

The HKU’s public opinion programme has, of course, been criticised for basing its rolling opinion surveys on a too-small sample size (no more than 200 in each geographical constituency), but I think the results of the “super seat” survey – which are based on the combined samples of all five geographical constituencies – are reliable.

The survey shows a steady trend of between 43 and 47 per cent support for the three lists of pro-establishment candidates in the district council (second) functional constituency, the so-called super seats. In 2012, the camp won about 45 per cent of valid votes.

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One difference is: seven lists of candidates competed for the super seats in 2012; today, there are nine lists. In 2012, the three lists of pan-democratic candidates secured 51 per cent of the votes. This time, there are as many as six lists of pan-democratic candidates. Whether or not the democratic camp can win three seats will depend on whether the Democrats can shift the abundant support votes for James To Kun-sun to fellow Democrat Roy Kwong Chun-yu.

In the geographical constituencies, the pro-establishment camp finds its highest level of support in Hong Kong Island (40-43 per cent), and its lowest in New Territories East (32-35 per cent). It is widely expected to secure 16, maybe 17, seats in the geographical constituencies (not counting the politically ambivalent Ricky Wong Wai-kay, who is set to win a seat in Hong Kong Island, and Christine Fong Kwok-shan, a former Liberal Party member who stands a chance in New Territories East).

The challenge for the pan-democrats is to maintain their critical majority in the 35-seat geographical constituencies, which is needed to block any attempt by the pro-establishment camp to change Legco rules and procedures, such as those meant to curb filibustering.

The 45-55 split in votes for the pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp respectively, seen at the last elections, is likely to be repeated this year. This means the emergence of localist and pro-independence groups will have a significant impact on the pan-democrats.

Localist candidates are featured in all five geographical constituencies. The HKU survey shows that they have a steady 8-16 per cent support. This is likely to translate into five seats in the coming Legco (one in Kowloon East, two in New Territories East and two in New Territories West).

Unlike the once radical faction of the democratic camp, comprising legislators such as Leung Kwok-hung and Wong Yuk-man, the new localists will be far less predictable in Legco, and may not always support the agenda of the traditional democratic camp. In fact, it is clear from the election debates on TV that the localist factions are as hostile to the pan-democrats as they are to their pro-establishment rivals.

The rise of the localists fighting for seats on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council

The expected election of pro-independence legislators must force the pan-democrats to seriously examine their position. They must decide whether this pro-independence trend will become mainstream, so that they are obliged to follow, or whether it will be transient, and it would be best to stick to their usual pitch of “one country, two systems”.

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A great statesman can shift public opinion. Hong Kong has no one filling this role. Instead, the city has no lack of mediocre politicians blindly following the folly of their constituents.

Hong Kong people who have been watching the scolding and yelling that goes on during our election debates on TV certainly won’t expect those whom they elect to have the wisdom and will to lead public opinion. Quite likely, voters who have been following the debates will wonder if any would have the sufficient intelligence to seek out the wisdom of the silent majority here in Hong Kong.

John Chan is a practising solicitor and a founding member of the Democratic Party