Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Former Hong Kong health chief Ko Wing-man won’t run in coming by-election, in blow to pro-government camp’s hopes

Ex-minister’s aide and political assistant Rebecca Chan tipped to be replacement candidate

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 11:04pm

The Hong Kong pro-government camp’s by-election hopes suffered a blow on Friday as popular former health minister Dr Ko Wing-man, who had been hotly tipped to represent the bloc, announced that he would not be running for a seat on the Legislative Council in November.

His aide, Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan, who had served as his political assistant, is now being floated as a likely candidate.

“I am not going to run in the coming Legco by-election in the Kowloon West constituency,” Ko said at noon. “After some detailed consideration, I find it impossible to balance well my clinical work and a lawmaker’s duties if I win the election.”

The practising orthopaedic surgeon, who recently joined the pro-establishment New People’s Party as an adviser, said his priority was always taking care of his patients.

On whether he supported Chan replacing him as a candidate, Ko said: “She had fought together with me over the past five years. No matter whether she runs or not, I will give her my full support.”

Chan said on Friday that she needed more time to decide whether to run, but thanked others for their encouragement.

The by-election is scheduled for November 25 to fill the seat vacated by localist politician Lau Siu-lai, who had been victorious during the 2016 general election but was disqualified by a court over her improper swearing-in.

She and five other opposition politicians were removed from their positions during the Legco oath-taking saga. Four of the seats were filled in the March by-election, with Vincent Cheng Wing-shun of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) scoring a breakthrough win over pan-democrat Edward Yiu Chung-yim in Kowloon West.

Ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai calls for democrats to show unity ahead of by-election

Two seats remained unfilled because of pending court appeals by Lau and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung. Lau decided to drop her appeal in May.

Sources in the pro-government camp admitted that it would be very difficult to duplicate Cheng’s by-election success, as it was the result of multiple factors including an early start to his campaign and mistakes made by the opposition.

Some of the bloc’s key stakeholders, in particular Beijing’s liaison office in the city, had pinned their hopes on the former health chief’s “celebrity effect”.

Ko had been the most popular minister in the previous chief executive’s cabinet. His support rate for most of his term had hovered at more than 70 per cent.

Members of the pro-establishment camp said negotiation among the parties was still under way, and no decision regarding the candidate had been made.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said that no matter who ran in the end, the campaign was off to a late start, and they would face a difficult path to victory.

“There is a great difference of popularity between Ko and Chan. As a [former] political assistant, there are not many public achievements Chan can sell,” he said.

Popular former health minister Ko Wing-man considers running in by-election

On Thursday night, prior to his official announcement, Ko said it was unlikely that he would run, spurring speculation that Chan would be the candidate.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee on Thursday showed support for Chan.

“Dr Ko has spoken highly of Rebecca, and if she decides to take part in the by-election, I will certainly support her [decision],” she said.

Other potential candidates include Sham Shui Po district councillor Scott Leung Man-kwong, of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, and Chris Ip Ngo-tung of the DAB. Both of them said on Thursday that they would respect the pro-establishment camp’s coordinated decision.

Sources told the Post that the odds of the DAB fielding another candidate were low.

The pan-democrats plan to let Lau run again or to field a candidate she prefers.

If they win in November, the pro-democracy camp will regain veto power in the legislature and be able to block bills and motions, including moves to further tighten the Legco house rules to clamp down on filibustering.

Lau said on Thursday that Ko’s decision would “certainly affect our preparation”.

“But we would not underestimate the pro-establishment camp [as they are] resourceful and can easily mobilise resources,” she added.

The ousted legislator is now a member of the Labour Party, and there has been speculation that former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, from the same party, could be the so-called Plan B candidate should Lau be banned by the government from running again.