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Legislative Council by-election 2018

Could self-declared moderate Christine Fong be a threat to Hong Kong’s democracy camp?

Not backed by any party, she lost Sunday’s by-election but her depth of support in New Territories East could make her a force to contend with when the 2020 Legco election rolls around

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 8:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 8:16am

Before Sunday’s by-election, few would have considered Christine Fong Kwok-shan, the district councillor for Sai Kung, a serious contender for the New Territories East seat.

But the 51-year-old, known as a political moderate without a party affiliation, made many do a double take when she secured 15.7 per cent of votes in a constituency known as an opposition stronghold.

While she did not make it to the Legislative Council – the seat went to pan-democrat Gary Fan Kwok-wai – her eyebrow-raising vote haul and indefatigable legwork firmly positioned her as a threat to the pro-democracy camp, in the city’s evolving political landscape.

Pundits are now wondering if Fong’s success signals the rise of a third bloc of voters – those who support a middle-of-the-road approach and refuse to be drawn into politicising issues. Traditionally, the fight has always been between democrats and pro-establishment conservatives.

This was not Fong’s first but fourth outing at the polls.

In the 2016 by-election for another New Territories East seat, Fong secured 7.7 per cent of votes. This time, she doubled her support from 33,424 to 64,905 votes, to get a vote share of 15.7 per cent.

“The by-election has marked a definite change in the political landscape,” Fong told the Post on Wednesday.

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Voters are sick of the pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp, with one side being extreme and the other being nothing more but a rubber stamp in Legco
Christine Fong

“Voters are sick of the pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp, with one side being extreme and the other being nothing more but a rubber stamp in Legco.”

Fong, who quit the pro-business Liberal Party eight years ago, described her moderate stance thus: She cherished the city’s core values but was opposed to pan-democrats’ filibustering attempts in Legco, which had hampered the city’s development.

Sunday’s poll, triggered by the ouster of six lawmakers over an oath-taking saga, was a crushing defeat for the city’s pro-democracy bloc as they expected to win at least the three geographical seats out of the four seats being contested.

Two lawmakers are challenging their disqualification from Legco, so the by-election for their seats will be held at a later date.

However, the bloc lost Kowloon West and as many expected, the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency seat. Their vote share across all three geographical seats shrunk – in New Territories East they got 44.6 per cent compared to 52.6 per cent in the by-election two years ago.

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An analysis of the results by the Post found that while Fong’s top 25 strongholds were in the seaside township of Sai Kung, she made significant progress in Sha Tin, an area known as a bastion of pan-democrats. She doubled her share of votes there compared to two years ago.

In City One, a middle-class residential estate, one-fifth of voters opted for Fong and she tripled her vote share there from before.

She also appeared to eat into support for both ends of the political spectrum, as vote share for the pro-democracy and Beijing-friendly camps decreased by 5.3 and 3.4 percentage points respectively.

Fong attributed her success to her solid community work. She transformed herself from a community representative based in the new town of Tseung Kwan O to one who traversed the Sai Kung district, handling 10,000 appeals for help from residents, from the pollution problem in Sheung Shui to pipeline leakages in Sha Tin.

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The people she served, she said, ended up being her campaign volunteers, with her four assistants providing invaluable support.

Holding back tears, Fong said: “That is why I ran for the elections as I need the resources to handle these cases.”

To finance her campaign, Fong raised over HK$500,000 via crowdfunding and said she had been dipping into her savings for years.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said Fong is set to threaten the pro-democracy camp in the next general election.

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While the camp won six out of the nine seats in New Territories East in the last poll, it now holds five seats with “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung appealing his case in the courts.

Choy said come 2020, Fong could easily win a Legco seat. After all, Leung beat her by only 1,051 votes in 2016.

But Choy had reservations on whether Fong’s success suggested there was growing appeal for the so-called moderate approach. Her personality and character played a more significant role behind the vote surge, he proffered.

“Fong has seldom highlighted her political ideology,” Choy said.

“It is more likely that voters backed her because of her repeated failed attempts to enter Legco and her work at the community level.”