Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Rift in Hong Kong’s political opposition grows as camp fails to agree on backup candidate

Scholars and insiders warn infighting will wreak havoc on chances of victory in March 11 poll.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 8:09am

The rift tearing apart Hong Kong’s political opposition deepened on Tuesday as the camp failed to agree on a backup candidate to run in the coming by-election in case their top choice is disqualified.

Scholars and insiders warned that the ongoing infighting between localists and traditional pan-democrats would dampen the bloc’s ability to score a victory in polls to be held on March 11.

A dispute erupted between veteran politician Frederick Fung Kin-kee and localist Eddie Chu Hoi-dick after the former dropped a bombshell by revealing his withdrawal from the race had been prompted by pressure from the localists.

“Someone from the progressive democracy bloc told me that if I ran in the poll, they would definitely send someone as well [to challenge me],” Fung said. “I hope my withdrawal will allow the hatred to dissipate.”

I hope my withdrawal will allow the hatred to dissipate
Frederick Fung Kin-kee

The discord was triggered by doubts about the eligibility of primary winner Edward Yiu Chung-yim – the camp’s favoured candidate – to contest the election for the Kowloon West constituency. Yiu was among six pan-democrats ousted from the city’s legislature last year over improper oaths of office, and there has been concern that his comeback bid could be blocked by the government.

According to an earlier agreement, the camp would adopt a plan B in the event of Yiu being barred by having the candidate with the second highest number of votes in the primary, which was Fung, stand for election.

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But localists suggested that agreement had not been set in stone, and Chu has cast doubt on Fung’s ability to win the race. 

Civic Party veteran Alan Leong Kah-kit was invited by the localists to replace Fung as their plan B – an idea which he turned down.

On Tuesday Chu denied he had been the one pressuring Fung to withdraw and pledged to fully back any candidate – be it Yiu, Fung or the Democratic Party’s Ramon Yuen Hoi-man, who came third in the primary.

He also said his allies were only looking for a backup candidate as a last resort – a plan D in case both Fung and Yuen dropped out.

But his clarification appeared to contradict earlier remarks he made on social media. 

In a Facebook comment posted ahead of the primary, Chu warned that Fung’s victory could be a “loss to everybody” as voters might refuse to vote for him in the election. In another post he said the camp should not blindly abide by the agreement to let Fung become the backup candidate as his odds of winning should also be considered.

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But some mainstream pan-democrats mocked Chu’s arguments, saying he was trying to move the goalposts by dismissing a well-established mechanism for choosing backup candidates.

Political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said the bloc might find itself in an uphill battle to beat pro-establishment rival Vincent Cheng Wing-shun with the localist plot to replace Fung turning ugly. 

“The camp might still be able to put aside the dispute and form a united front to back Yiu if he is not disqualified, but otherwise I don’t see how this infighting will end if [a third candidate] is running,” he said.

Almost a whole week has been wasted on the dispute instead of the key battle
Wu Chi-wai 

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai lamented the internal strife and said it had led to uncertainties.

“Almost a whole week has been wasted on the dispute instead of the key battle, which is Yiu’s election campaign,” he said.

The drama also puts the Democratic Party in a dilemma as it gets set to meet on Thursday over whether to endorse Yuen.

“On one hand, it appears reasonable for Yuen to run in a bid to defend the primary’s mechanism now that Fung is gone,” said a party source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

“But on the other hand, he would have to bear all the consequences of losing, given the whole campaign has been messed up by this dispute.”