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Legislative Council elections 2016

Political D-Day for Hong Kong: candidates in last-ditch effort to canvass voters ahead of crucial Legco elections

All eyes are on the struggle between pan-democratic and pro-establishment forces, as well as on localist challenge

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 2:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2016, 8:22am

Candidates across the political spectrum for Sunday’s Legislative Council elections intensified last-ditch efforts on Saturday to canvass votes in the wake of a surprise mass pull-out among pan-democrats aimed at capturing more seats.

Voters approached by the Post and those who shared their thoughts on social media appeared to be rethinking their strategy after seven candidates with lower chances of winning announced a tactical retreat by halting electioneering and called on supporters to switch their votes to other allies.

The elections are the first general legislative polls since the Occupy protests in 2014 and seen as the most critical since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover. ­Voters will choose between not only the pan-democratic and pro-establishment camps, but also a new force of localists who call for independence from China.

It is also seen as a reference for Beijing to assess the city’s latest situation ahead of the chief executive election next year.

As polls suggest a favourable turnout for pro-establishment candidates, all eyes are on whether the pan-democrats can retain one-third of the 70 seats that give them veto power in the legislature, as well as a simple majority in the 35 seats returned from geographical constituencies.

Watch: battle for last Legco ‘super seat’

A University of Hong Kong poll released on Friday showed pro-establishment lawmakers could grab over two-thirds of geographical seats. The poll was conducted before the big pull-out.

The race for five coveted “super seats”, whose candidates are district councillors elected by citywide voters, is now fixed to an even three-three between the two main camps after three pro-democracy underdogs threw in the towel. That has turned the tide against pro-establishment candidate Holden Chow Ho-ding of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Chow was initially regarded as capable of taking advantage of a fragmented vote base for pan-democrats. He described his situation as critical, with polls showing a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Roy Kwong Chun-yu in the fight for the last of five super seats before the pull-out.

Kwong would not speculate on how much he could benefit from the 8 per cent popularity the three withdrawals shared according to the HKU poll.

On Friday night, six candidates, five of them notable pan-democrats, announced one after another they would pull out to consolidate votes for others. On Saturday, NeoDemocrat Kwan Wing-yip also withdrew from the super seat contest.

Apparently taken by surprise, DAB heavyweight Tam Yiu-chung criticised the move, saying: “This is a collective calculation. We don’t know if anyone is behind this.” The Federation of Trade Unions’ super seat candidate Wong Kwok-hing lodged a complaint to the city’s graft-buster, claiming it was illegal for those who pulled out to support fellow candidates

One of those who abandoned the campaign, Paul Zimmerman, canvassed for Nathan Law Kwun-chung of Demosisto, an Occupy student leader, on Hong Kong Island.

“It was not my plan [to drop out] all along. I made an honest run,” Zimmerman said.

Watch: Legco elections explained in three minutes

Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming, a senior barrister, questioned accusations that moves like Zimmerman’s would be illegal, saying: “If he asked supporters to vote for the DAB, would Wong have lodged a complaint?”

Voters have started to digest the novel calls for a change of mind. Kelly Yan, 50, said she would now vote for Law. “It is a good decision to centralise all the voting to Law ... for freedom, democracy and free speech,” Yan said.

Online discussions especially focused on New Territories East and West, as well as the super seats.

Some candidates expressed alarm, fearing supporters would switch to weaker allies.

“Polls can’t vote. Only you can,” said New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the top favourite among Hong Kong Island voters, according to the HKU poll.

The Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, who topped polls in the New Territories East constituency, asked his supporters to find friends and spread votes to other pan-democrats.

Some 4,000 staff of the Electoral Affairs Commission rehearsed for the big day in the central counting station at the AsiaWorld Expo at Chek Lap Kok.

The Post understood that police considered the centre to be at a higher risk of trouble compared with polling stations, as supporters of candidates from different camps might clash over the results.

Although an assessment showed the risk of trouble during the elections was not high, a source said: “We have to prepare for the worst.”

The force mounted an unprecedented election security exercise last Monday. At least 5,000 officers from six regional response contingents set up after the Occupy protests will be mobilised today amid other worries that pro-independence supporters may disrupt the elections.

Additional reporting by Danny Lee, Nikki Sun and Clifford Lo