Plenty for Legco by-election hopefuls to chew over in New Territories East despite familiar look to race
In the last of a three-part series on the coming by-election, analysts tell the Post that past showings in a constituency seen as a pan-democrat stronghold might not be an indication of things this time
For the nearly one million electors in the New Territories East constituency, the March 11 Legislative Council by-election gives a definite sense of déjà vu, with similar points of tension, a similar pro-Beijing and opposition stand-off, and largely the same contestants as those who campaigned for seats there in the Legco election two years ago.
While the constituency is regarded as a stronghold of the opposition pan-democrats, some observers warn that past showings might not be any indication this time.
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The social atmosphere has been more harmonious recently, which is less helpful to the opposition, and the pan-democrats might also lose support from moderate voters fed up with the camp’s antics in Legco, according to political analysts interviewed by the South China Morning Post.
Of the six candidates, five are taking another shot at Legco victory. They are centrist Nelson Wong Sing-chi, moderate conservative Christine Fong Kwok-shan, pro-Beijing unionist Bill Tang Ka-piu, localist Gary Fan Kwok-wai and self-styled politician Estella Chan Yuk-ngor.
New to the race is pro-family activist Joyce Chiu Pui-yuk.
In general, analysts view New Territories East as a duel between Fan and Tang, respectively fielded by the rival pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps, for the seat from which separatist Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang of Youngspiration was ousted after he was disqualified when the court ruled his oath of office taken in 2016 was invalid.
The other four are not seen as serious contenders.
Fan, 51, of the NeoDemocrats, is a Sai Kung district councillor. He won the pan-democrats’ so-called primaries last month to represent the camp in the by-election. He previously held a seat in the constituency from 2012-16.
His main rival Tang, 38, a former legislator of the Federation of Trade Unions, was chosen to represent the pro-establishment camp. Currently an Islands district councillor, Tang joined the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) last year and is carrying the banners of both groups.
The constituency of 989,000 voters covers Sha Tin, Tai Po, Sai Kung and North districts. In the 2016 Legco election, the pro-establishment camp grabbed some 34.6 per cent of the vote in the constituency, down from 42.4 per cent in 2012. In comparison, the pan-democrats and localists took a 58 per cent vote share in 2016 and 55 per cent four years earlier.
Of the nine seats in the constituency, six were won by pan-democrats in the September 2016 Legco election. But two winners, Sixtus Leung and fellow radical pan-democrat “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, were subsequently disqualified for their improper oath taking. Leung Kwok-hung is appealing.
In an earlier showdown of the two camps in a constituency by-election in February 2016, Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu of the opposition Civic Party grabbed 160,880 votes, beating the DAB’s Holden Chow Ho-ding by about 10,000 votes.
Dr James Sung Lap-kung, a political scientist at City University, said: “The by-election in February 2016 followed the big victory of the pan-democratic camp in the district council elections in late 2015, taking advantage of the public support of the 2014 Occupy protests.
“But this time, the by-election was triggered by the oath-taking saga which saw some localists and pro-independence activists mess up their oaths in the legislature.”
Raymond Mak Ka-chun, a governor of the middle-of-the-road political group Path of Democracy, held similar views and said the social atmosphere had become more harmonious recently and that would not be advantageous to the pan-democrats.
“The pan-democrats seem to have failed to make [express rail link] co-location an election issue. And Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah’s illegal structure saga is also dying down,” Mak said, referring to the controversy over illegal extensions on the justice secretary’s properties.
“Tang’s moderate pro-establishment stance might also help him win the support of some middle-of-the-road electors.”
Fan conceded it would be a tough battle but said: “The road to democracy is a long journey. No one expects it to be easy.”
Speaking of his defeat in the 2016 election, Fan said: “Failure teaches success.”
On Tang’s chances, Sung however warned that Fong could be a spoiler. “Fong is a moderate conservative and could attract votes that would otherwise go to Tang,” he said.
“Although her chance of winning is very slim, she could derail Tang’s bid in the event of a tight race between Tang and Fan.”
Fong, 51, a Sai Kung district councillor, also took part in the 2016 by-election but lost. She made another bid in the 2016 Legco election, also in the same constituency, but was again unsuccessful.
Tang, who also lost out in the 2016 Legco election, conceded that Fong’s spoiler effect was a concern but he remained optimistic.
“Things have changed. Voters are fed up with the obstructionist tactics of the opposition camp. Many of the voters I met said they would not vote for someone who would side with the pro-independence camp and resort to filibustering to block the development of Hong Kong. I hope they can give their votes to the one with the highest chance of winning,” he said.
Fong, meanwhile, did not consider herself a spoiler candidate and said her support base had expanded, as she won 1,000 more votes in the 2016 election than the 33,424 in the by-election.
As for the other contenders, they remained upbeat despite their slim chances of victory.
Wong, 60, also took part in the 2016 by-election. He got only 17,295 votes, the third lowest among the seven candidates. He also contested the social welfare functional constituency seat in the 2016 election but only got 557 votes, or 4.9 per cent.
Despite his repeated failure, Wong said: “The analysts are entitled to their views. No one can say for sure who will win until after the votes are counted. I met many people during my campaign and most of them support my moderate approach.”
A former legislator, Wong was a founding member of the Democratic Party but was expelled in 2015 because of his support for the government’s controversial election reform package. He later co-founded a new centrist party, Third Side, but quit in 2016 after it refused to support his Legco election bid.
Retired nursery teacher Chiu, 47, is a member of the pro-family group, Family School SODO (Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance) Concern Group. She said she was inspired by God to run. “Whether I can win or not, I leave it to God,” Chiu said.
Chan, 58, known for her diehard support for former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, won only 486 votes in the 2016 Legco election.
She said of her chances this time: “There should be some alternative voices in an election, besides those of the pro-establishment and the opposition camps … I couldn’t care less about winning or losing. Actually, I have nothing to lose. I have never won before.”