Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Hong Kong pro-establishment candidates could lose votes following bookseller revelations

Analysts and lawmakers worry that more people may vote for pan-democratic camp in September’s Legislative Council elections

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 8:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 9:10pm

As people across the political spectrum hold their breath following Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee’s revelation of what happened to him in the past eight months, pro-establishment politicians appear to be potential losers from the political fallout.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, former head of the Hong Kong government’s think tank, the Central Policy Unit, said the controversy would unavoidably reinforce the perception of a substantial proportion of people that the “one country, two systems” formula was being encroached on by some mainland departments.

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Lam, one of the five booksellers who went missing last year, revealed at a press conference on Thursday that he was kidnapped at the border in October and put through eight months of mental torture.

He said he was accompanied by two mainland interrogators when he returned to Hong Kong on Tuesday, sparking concerns about whether mainland law enforcement officers were taking the law into their own hands in the city.

The 61-year-old said he was released because the interrogators wanted him to bring back a hard disc containing more information about the bookstore’s mainland customers.

Lau, currently vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Lam’s revelations would have a negative impact on the prospects of government-friendly candidates in the Legislative Council elections scheduled for September 4.

The association is the central government’s leading think tank on Hong Kong.

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“The incident of the mysterious disappearance of five booksellers has dealt the most serious blow to Hongkongers’ confidence in the ‘one country, two systems’ because it touches them on their core rights and personal safety,” he said.

“It is even worse than the failure to attain universal suffrage and Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law in 1999,” Lau said.

The professor expected some middle-of-the-road voters to opt for pan-democratic candidates in September. “It won’t be a surprise if 5 per cent of such voters choose to support pan-democrats this time,” he said.

Lau predicted that the bookseller controversy and the pan-democratic camp’s campaign to block Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying from serving a second term could cause the pro-establishment camp to lose a few seats in the Legco elections.

“But the impact won’t be so severe that the pro-government camp will lose its majority in the legislature,” Lau said.

The pro-government camp now hold 43 seats in the 70-member legislature.

Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun said Lam’s press conference would make the pro-establishment camp’s Legco election campaign more difficult.

“Now the people have such a negative impression of the central government ... and the pan-democrats would definitely mention [Lam’s experience] in election debates and publicity materials,” Tien said.

Ip Kwok-him, an executive councillor and lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, also conceded that their campaign would be more difficult.

“Now the pan-democrats are very excited about Lam’s account ... and all we can do is to explain and reason with our voters” on whether Lam’s account was credible, Ip suggested.

However, a political commentator, who declined to be named, said he did not expect Lam’s revelations would have a great impact on the fortune of the pro-establishment camp.

“The support base of both the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps has been quite stable over the years,” the commentator said.

The Legco poll is the last showdown between the two blocs before the chief executive election next March.

Pan-democrats have suggested that people should vote for them if they oppose Leung ruling Hong Kong for another five years.

Lau said the voices calling for Beijing to prevent Leung from serving another five-year term would get stronger if the controversy further escalated or Leung mishandled the matter.