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Legislative Council by-election 2018

Pan-democrats in need of rethink after poll loss

  • The defeat of veteran unionist Lee Cheuk-yan by pro-establishment Chan Hoi-yan in the Kowloon West by-election shows again that confrontation and extremism are no longer the way to go
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 11:23pm

The defeat of veteran unionist Lee Cheuk-yan by a novice in the Kowloon West by-election has prompted much soul-searching among pan-democrats and the community at large. For the second time, the camp has failed to win back seats in the Legislative Council from those disqualified by the government in the oath-taking saga. It would seem that adhering to confrontation and extremism no longer appeals to voters. A change in positioning and strategy is called for. Lee’s failure apparently had nothing to do with his feud with fellow pan-democrat Frederick Fung Kin-kee, as their combined votes still fell 901 short of Chan Hoi-yan’s 106,457. Lee may seem just as radical as many pro-independence figures to have emerged from the Occupy movement, but the 61-year-old is struggling to connect with youngsters, much like other veteran democrats. Even though he had the support of ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai and other young radicals, he garnered even fewer votes than those secured by ally Edward Yiu Chung-yim in the March by-election.

Why did Hong Kong voters reject pro-democracy candidate?

Whether a single constituency is indicative of the city’s general political mood is of course open to debate. But it says something when campaigns riding on dissent against the perceived erosion of freedoms and autonomy have twice been defeated by forces championing harmony and development. If confrontation and extremism are no longer the way to go, the pan-democrats inevitably have to revise their approach or risk being further alienated by voters.

Chan’s victory has again testified to the strength of the pro-government camp. The former TV journalist and government political assistant emerged as second choice after her former boss and health minister, Dr Ko Wing-man, declined to come forward. But her lack of political credentials and district support was made up by the camp’s strong canvassing machinery.

The result means the pan-democrats have no hope of restoring their de facto veto power in the current term under the chamber’s divisional vote system. But whether the government will encounter less political resistance remains to be seen. With the district council and Legco elections scheduled in the next two years, governance will only become more difficult.