Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Hong Kong’s opposition politicians get chance at game-changing comeback next March

Odds in their favour as fractured pan-democrats plan strategy to win back Legislative Council seats taken from colleagues over improper oath-taking

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 11:32pm

Opposition politicians are looking to make a game-changing comeback when Hong Kong holds by-elections in March to fill four seats in the legislature vacated by their colleagues who were disqualified over improper oath-taking.

The government announced on Thursday that the polls would be scheduled for March 11, setting the stage for a showdown between former lawmakers, young democracy activists and pro-establishment district councillors.

Political observers said the odds were in the pan-democrats’ favour, but members of the camp would have to overcome internal divisions and coordinate strategies to put forward their strongest candidates.

“The moderate pan-democrats should be able to win. I don’t see the localists or so-called separatists making much noise this time,” Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said.

Some 2.1 million registered voters will decide who gets the Legislative Council seats vacated by Demosisto’s Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang in the Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West and New Territories East geographical constituencies respectively.

More than 7,600 voters in the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency will choose someone to fill the fourth seat, left empty by Edward Yiu Chung-yim.

There will be more by-elections further down the line for seats vacated by two other opposition lawmakers, Lau Siu-lai of Kowloon West and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of New Territories East. The pair have filed appeals against disqualification.

All six lawmakers were kicked out of Legco for failing to take their oaths properly last year. That cut the number of geographical seats held by pan-democrats to 14, while their pro-establishment rivals hold 16.

Seeking to recapture their lost veto power in Legco, opposition politicians had been hoping that by-elections for Lau and Leung Kwok-hung’s seats would not be lumped in with the other four.

Arrangements for the March polls have effectively granted that wish.

If the six seats had been voted on together, including the two each from New Territories East and Kowloon West, then the bloc would most likely have lost a seat in both those spots, because of the city’s system of proportional representation.

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In last September’s elections, the pan-democrats secured the majority of votes in all three geographical constituencies that will be up for grabs in March.

The biggest pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), expressed “disappointment” that the government would not wait until all court proceedings were over before having six by-elections in one go.

Leung Kwok-hung said he would seek legal advice before deciding whether to run in the March by-elections.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said if Leung Kwok-hung and Lau decided to contest their lost seats, the camp should give them priority. But internal coordination would be required for the other constituencies, he added.

“We will start discussing a coordination mechanism as soon as possible. If it is not one pro-democracy versus one rival, we will be disadvantaged in that particular constituency,” Wu said.

DAB chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king said the pro-establishment camp would also sit down soon to work out a united strategy.

In New Territories East, former legislators such as pan-democrats Gary Fan Kwok-wai and Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, and Beijing loyalist Bill Tang Ka-piu have previously expressed interest in making a comeback, while former student activist Tommy Cheung Sau-yin also said he was preparing to join the race.

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Fan agreed on coordination within the opposition camp, saying: “The most important thing is for the pan-democratic camp to regain as many seats as possible.”

For Hong Kong Island, Demosisto’s core members have vowed to regain the seat vacated by chairman Law, but have yet to decide who will run.

Their pro-establishment rivals could include Judy Chan Ka-pui of the New People’s Party and Chan Hok-fung of the DAB.

In Kowloon West, pro-establishment district councillors Dominic Lee Tsz-king of the Liberal Party and Vincent Cheng Wing-shun of the DAB are understood to be considering to run.

Cheng said: “The DAB will continue to discuss with our friends and allies, to make sure that the pro-establishment camp will be fielding the best candidate in March.”

Their rivals could include former pan-democrat lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee and Democratic Party district councillor Ramon Yuen Hoi-man.

In the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, the pro-establishment camp’s Tony Tse Wai-chuen, who lost his seat in the last elections, was expected to make a comeback.

On whether he would run again, Yiu said he would leave it for his pro-democracy allies, such as Demosisto and professional groups, to decide.

“The decision will be made by the last minute [of the nomination period]. If they need me on Hong Kong Island or the architectural, planning, surveying and landscaping sector, I will run. Otherwise I will wait for the next election in 2020,” he said.