Legislative Council of Hong Kong

By-election voters must rise above political apathy

  • The public might easily view Sunday’s race for a single seat in Kowloon West as not worth caring about, but the outcome could have a big impact on their lives
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 10:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 10:46pm

It is easy to forget that a Legislative Council by-election is being held on Sunday. Given the relatively calm political atmosphere and limited media coverage of the race, voters in Kowloon West might be tempted to stay home. With only half a million people casting ballots in the geographical constituency, it is easy for the wider public to view the contest as largely irrelevant. That would be a mistake.

The poll is the second one triggered by the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers. The first round in March saw the pro-government camp win two of the four seats up for grabs, partly due to low voter turnout. The current fight is over a single seat, involving pro-government aspirant Chan Hoi-yan, veteran unionist Lee Cheuk-yan and fellow pan-democrat Frederick Fung Kin-kee, along with two lesser known faces, Ng Dick-hay and Judy Tzeng Li-wen. Whether the pan-democrats can fend off the challenge remains to be seen, with Lee seeking to capitalise on a protest vote against the government’s decision to bar ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai from standing again.

Kowloon West by-election likely to go down to the wire

The ballot is not just another political barometer of the prevailing mood. It will also have far-reaching implications for the balance of power in the legislature, as well as the city’s governance. The defeat in March already cost the pan-democrats their de facto veto power over proposals put forward by the pro-government camp under the chamber’s split-voting rule.

The public has expressed growing discontent over lawmakers’ performance in recent years. This has been accompanied by a prevailing sense of political fatigue and helplessness following the Occupy movement in 2014 and the ill-fated push to introduce universal suffrage. The removal of democratically elected lawmakers for improperly taking their oaths of office might also reinforce voter apathy. Many wonder whether they can make any difference at all in how the city is run.

But voting is not simply about doing one’s civic duty. The ballot has a direct impact on the checks and balances in Legco, which affects governance and Hong Kong’s development. It is important that we seize the opportunity to stand up and be counted.