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Legislative Council by-election 2018

Did localists abandon the pan-democrats in Hong Kong by-election?

Results from New Territories East – a traditional opposition stronghold – suggest more voters stayed home, with others choosing to support an independent candidate instead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 8:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2018, 8:53am

While the pro-democracy bloc’s Gary Fan Kwok-wai won the New Territories East seat in Sunday’s by-election, some localist voters – who support more radical ways of achieving self-determination for Hong Kong – abandoned him.

At certain polling stations, Fan’s vote share was 10 per cent lower than pro-democracy candidates in previous elections.

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Indeed, localist supporters were seen as a wild card in this poll, which was triggered by the disqualification of six mostly localist lawmakers over their oath-taking antics after the 2016 Legislative Council election.

The constituency is known as an opposition stronghold – voters picked only three pro-establishment candidates from a slate of nine lawmakers two years ago.

But Fan said: “According to our preliminary analysis, some may have cast empty ballots, followed ‘scorched earth’ calls, or just didn’t vote.”

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He was referring to how some activists, accusing him of not being a true localist, urged supporters ahead of the poll to adopt a “scorched earth policy” by casting blank votes or just staying home.

Indeed, New Territories East saw more voters give polling stations a miss compared to the two other geographical constituencies and one functional constituency where three seats were contested. 

Two ousted lawmakers are appealing against their disqualification so the fate of their seats will be decided later.

On Sunday, only 42 per cent of registered voters in the constituency showed up to cast their ballot, when 46 per cent did so in the 2016 by-election for a different seat, and over 60 per cent took part in the 2016 general election. 

In the February 2016 by-election, localist candidate Edward Leung Tin-kei got 15.4 per cent of votes and pan-democrat Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu got 37.2 per cent, giving the pro-democracy camp a combined share of 52.6 per cent.

In the September 2016 general election, 47 per cent voted for pan-democrats, some 10 per cent backed localists, and 34.6 per cent backed the pro-establishment camp.

This year, Fan scored 44.6 per cent, beating pro-establishment Bill Tang Ka-piu, who got 37.1 per cent. But a remarkable 15.7 per cent went to independent candidate Christine Fong Kwok-shan.

The clearest sign that support for pan-democrats had bled out at localist strongholds came from 10 polling stations that Leung did well at two years ago. Fan got only an average of 45.6 per cent of votes there.

They included Sheung Tak Community Hall in Tseung Kwan O and Fung Kai Liu Man Shek Tong Secondary School in Fanling. Yeung also did well, and he and Leung averaged a combined vote share of 56.5 per cent at those stations.

At Sheung Tak in particular, Fan got only 38.9 per cent – or 1,712 votes – compared to the total of 2,487 that Leung and Yeung received.

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Fan admitted he was not able to convert Leung’s supporters into his fans. Some netizens had even said they would rather vote for the pro-establishment candidate, he noted. Fong though, benefited from the situation. She doubled her vote tally from the 2016 by-election.

Asked what he would do to improve his ties with localists since he was now the area’s representative in Legco, Fan said he would address their concerns over the support of jailed activists, including Leung. 

The 26-year-old has been in police custody since late January, when he admitted to one count of 

assaulting a police officer during the Mong Kok riot in February 2016.

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Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, a former student leader, said Fan managed to retain some localist support in Wah Ming and Fu Heng estates in Fanling and Tai Po. 

But the results reflected the widening gap between the camps, he said, and pan-democrats would need to review their relationship with advocates of localism.