Legco by-election rivals on Hong Kong Island urge ‘safeguarding the rule of law’ … but whose way will win votes?
In the second of a three-part series on the coming by-election, the Post looks at the showdown between Au Nok-hin and Judy Chan Ka-pui in the constituency with the highest income and education levels
Two legislative by-election candidates locked in a major showdown to represent the Hong Kong Island constituency may tout opposing political ideologies, but they have put forward the same campaign mantra: “safeguard the city’s rule of law”.
Southern district councillors Au Nok-hin and Judy Chan Ka-pui – endorsed by the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps respectively – must win support from 623,273 voters who have the highest education levels and incomes across all constituencies in the city.
In the 2016 Legislative Council elections, the pro-democracy camp won 50.8 per cent of Hong Kong Island votes, while businessman Ricky Wong Wai-kay – seen as representing middle-of-the-road voters – received 9 per cent and the pro-establishment camp took 40 per cent.
Analysts expect Au to enjoy an advantage in the by-election, riding a possible surge in “sympathy votes” for the bloc after some of its members were banned from running.
Au and Chan both appeal to middle-class voters with their concerns over the city’s core values, but have different interpretations of similar campaign themes.
“Safeguard the rule of law, revive rationality” is Chan’s slogan. The New People’s Party member accused her rival of being involved in the 2014 Occupy movement, the 79-day civil disobedience campaign that brought parts of the city to a standstill, calling for greater democracy. She also criticised Au’s camp for filibustering in Legco.
Such actions, she claimed, amounted to undermining the rule of law and stifling Hong Kong’s development.
“It is a battle between rationality and irrationality. I believe people are tired of political fights,” Chan said. “Only a stable and harmonious city can prosper.”
Chan was initially set to face Demosisto’s Agnes Chow Ting in the poll. But Chow was barred from running on the grounds that her party called for the city’s self-determination. Chan, 37, supported the ban, saying it was done according to the law and that Chow only had herself to blame.
Campaigning against the pro-democracy camp’s backup candidate in a recent election forum on TV, Chan displayed a photo of Au burning a copy of the Basic Law. She cast doubt on his claims that he would uphold the city’s mini-constitution.
Au, a former Democratic Party member, clarified that the photo was taken during a November 2016 protest to oppose Beijing’s Basic Law interpretation over oaths of office by Hong Kong lawmakers. The changes later paved the way for the disqualification of six opposition legislators, resulting in the March by-election to fill four of the vacated seats. Two of the six disqualified members, Lau Siu-lai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, have lodged appeals, and a date has not been set for a by-election for their seats.
Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who was elected with 13.4 per cent of votes in the Hong Kong Island constituency in 2016, was among the ousted lawmakers.
“Using a picture of me burning protest props to smear me over my political stance is an extreme witch-hunt,” Au said, asking whether Chan was suggesting any opposition politician who engaged in the same sort of act as part of a protest should be barred from running.
The 30-year-old university guest lecturer said he deliberately copied the “rule of law” slogan from his rival. “[Upholding] the rule of law is to protect civil rights. It is not a tool to curb rights and freedoms of the people,” Au said. “The bans have deprived them of their rights to stand for elections, something that every Hongkonger is entitled to do.”
Au added he believed that while middle-of-the-road voters were not as concerned about rows over Hong Kong’s autonomy, they still cared about the cornerstones of the city’s success: the rule of law and the “one country, two systems” governing principle.
“If those are undermined, the Hong Kong we treasure will have nothing left,” Au said.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung believed Au could benefit from “sympathy votes” after Chow was barred from running. Compared to Chow, a 21-year-old student, Au’s political profile and career background in education were more appealing to middle-class voters, Choy said, adding that he would retain the backing of Chow’s Demosisto supporters.
Another political academic, Ma Ngok, shared similar views, adding that Chan on the other hand might struggle to get votes – despite her mentor being veteran Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee – given her comparatively weak qualifications.
With full backing from their respective camps, both Chan and Au mobilised political heavyweights to join their campaigns, from guest spots in Facebook videos to election forum appearances and canvassing for votes on the streets.
Chan tried impressing middle-class voters by posting videos of her discussing various issues with Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Dr Ko Wing-man, the former health chief. She even received a flu vaccination from Ko on camera.
Executive councillors Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and Laura Cha Shih May-lung, tipped to be the next Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing chairwoman, helped Chan canvass for votes in Central, where most finance companies are based.
Meanwhile, Au rallied high-profile members of his camp to stand behind him during a recent election forum. They included Chow and Law, as well as veterans from traditional pro-democracy groups: the Democratic Party’s James To Kun-sun, Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit and his party colleague and lawmaker Tanya Chan.
Besides Au and Chan, the other two candidates running in the constituency are Ng Dick-hay, an IT officer, and Edward Yum Liang-hsien, a former activist who is seeking a comeback. Yum retreated from the political scene when he quit the pro-democracy party People Power in 2013. Ng could not be reached for comment.