Hong Kong’s rival political camps gear up for first polls since oath-taking saga
District council by-elections in two constituencies a prelude to Legco fight in March for seats left vacant by oath controversy
Hong Kong’s rival political camps were on Saturday gearing up to cross swords in district council by-elections – their first contest since six lawmakers were removed from their seats in the city’s legislature over improper oaths of office.
Sunday’s polls were triggered by the resignation earlier this year of two pro-establishment district councillors who left their positions to join Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s government.
The by-elections are a prelude to a showdown in March when opposition pan-democratic lawmakers will attempt to regain four of the Legislative Council seats lost during the oath-taking saga.
Six lawmakers were disqualified by a court for spoiling their oaths last October amid legal proceedings launched against them by Hong Kong’s previous government, led by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.
Both the district councils up for grabs on Sunday are in the downtown district of Central and Western – one in the upmarket residential area The Peak and the other in the constituency of Tung Wah.
The loss of six Legco seats by the pan-democratic camp in the oath-taking saga has effectively crippled the bloc’s power to block legislative bills or changes to the rules of the chamber that may curtail their ability to filibuster. By-elections for four of the Legco seats will be held in March.
Across the city’s 18 district councils, pro-establishment politicians hold almost 70 per cent of 431 directly elected seats. Among directly elected seats in Legco however pan-democrats held the upper hand until the disqualification saga, holding 19 of the seats representing geographical constituencies against 16 for pro-Beijing members.
But the district council constituencies are small – with only about 5,000 registered voters in each of the two up for grabs – and voters in general were more concerned about livelihood issues rather than political wrangling, which could work against pan-democrats, Dr Chung Kim-wah, a political scientist at Polytechnic University, said.
Whether pan-democrats could take advantage would depend on the turnout rate, as the pro-establishment camp was better at mobilising voters, he added.
Democratic Party contender Bonnie Ng Hoi-yan, who is running in the Tung Wah constituency, said: “We play both the livelihood and political cards. I don’t think I have any particular advantage after the disqualification saga.”
Ng, a party community officer in Western district for 10 years, said voters were more concerned with the local issues of the community.
History conservation, improving transport and building a library were all in her manifesto. As for her political stance, she said the position of the Democratic Party, the city’s largest opposition party, had long been clear.
Her opponent is primary school principal Lui Kam-keung, an independent candidate who has nevertheless been supported by pro-Beijing heavyweights such as former Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.
Lui said he disagreed with filibustering by pan-democrats in Legco and had been against the Occupy movement for greater democracy, a civil disobedience campaign that gripped Hong Kong in 2014 and shut down major roads for 79 days. The most important work of a district councillor was taking good care of livelihood issues, he said.
“We should not politicise everything,” Lui said, adding that he wanted to serve the community in which his school was located and provide better services for the elderly.
The Tung Wah seat became vacant after the resignation of Kathy Siu Ka-yi, a member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest political party. Siu beat her pro-democracy opponent by just a small margin in the last elections.
But observers from both political camps said they believed the Democratic Party stood a good chance of stealing the seat on Sunday given its relatively deep-rooted community ties.
The third candidate in the Tung Wah race is former Labour Party member Lau Shu-yin. Lau could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
In The Peak constituency, one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the city, the contest was between the Liberal Party’s Jeremy Young Chit-on, who served as a political assistant in the Hong Kong government from 2008 to 2012, and Edward Chin Chi-kin, a hedge fund manager and supporter of the Occupy movement.
Despite their colourful political backgrounds, both have played safe and prioritised livelihood issues in the run-up to Sunday’s polls, in particular emphasising transport in their manifestos.
Young appeared to have an advantage over his rival, as party colleague Joseph Chan Ho-lim currently holds the seat after winning 85 per cent of the vote at the last election in 2015.
“Many residents here are professionals and businesspeople who are more conservative about politics,” Young said.
But Chin said the Liberal Party had abandoned its voters by allowing Chan to leave his position halfway through his four-year term. He has used “defending core values” as his campaign slogan and received support from veteran pan-democrats Martin Lee Chu-ming and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun in campaign leaflets.
Chung said he believed the Legco by-elections in March to fill the seats left vacant by the oath-taking saga would garner greater attention and see the disqualification debate return to centre stage.