Veteran Hong Kong lawmaker Frederick Fung breaks ranks to contest Kowloon West by-election, threatening pan-dems’ bid to regain veto power in Legco
Despite fellow democrat Lau Siu-lai submitting her nomination papers for the November 25 poll, Fung throws his hat in the ring, upset at the camp’s strategy
Fed up with the pro-democracy camp’s contingency plan for the Kowloon West by-election, veteran lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee broke ranks on Tuesday to announce he would be one of three candidates in the November 25 poll.
Fung’s decision pitted him against the camp’s choice – ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai – who also submitted her nomination papers to the Election Affairs Commission. It threw the camp’s campaign strategy into disarray and raised fears of a split vote.
The third candidate was Chan Hoi-yan, who announced she would run as an independent. The former political assistant to popular ex-health minister Ko Wing-man was backed by the pro-establishment camp.
This by-election is crucial for the pro-democracy camp. Winning would help it regain veto power in the Legislative Council, where 16 of them represent geographical constituencies, compared with the other side’s 17.
Fung said he threw his hat in the ring as he was unhappy the camp had decided on another veteran, Lee Cheuk-yan, as Lau’s backup, in case election officials do not approve her candidacy.
He pledged to not start campaigning unless Lau was barred. If her candidacy was confirmed, he would bow out of the race.
Lau was among six lawmakers disqualified from Legco between 2016 and last year after a Hong Kong court ruled they had taken their oaths improperly. She spent eight minutes saying her oath, pausing for five to seven seconds between every word.
In recent years, several applicants have been banned from elections, judged unfit to uphold the Basic Law because of their stated beliefs. This happened most recently at the March by-election held for four of the ousted lawmakers’ seats.
A returning officer from the Election Affairs Commission barred Demosisto member Agnes Chow Ting’s application on grounds that her party advocated self-determination for the city and had called for a referendum to decide its political future.
On Tuesday, Lau signed a declaration stating her acceptance of Hong Kong as an inalienable part of China.
The lecturer at Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College, who won her first Legco election in Kowloon West in 2016 with slogans calling for Hong Kong’s self-determination, recently removed at least two articles illustrating the idea from her personal website.
Asked about this on Tuesday, Lau seemed to distance herself from her previous calls, refusing to reveal if she would still advocate self-determination, merely saying her political ideals would be explained in a written manifesto.
“I have never supported calls for Hong Kong independence,” Lau said outside the Kowloon City Government Offices, where she submitted her papers with 2,000 signatures backing her nomination. Representatives from more than 10 pro-democracy groups flanked her, which she said showed the camp’s “spirit of unity”.
Fung recently abandoned the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, which he co-founded three decades ago, in what was seen as a move for him to run as an independent in the by-election.
On Tuesday he showed up later than Lau, alone. He said he had 147 nominations.
Political observer Dr Chung Kim-wah said Fung’s decision had caused uncertainty for the pan-democrat campaign, as Fung was popular, had spent years working in the district and would easily attract thousands of votes.
“The vote share difference between the pro-democracy and the pro-Beijing camp in Kowloon West is very close,” said Chung, an assistant professor at Polytechnic University’s department of applied social sciences.
“It will be a tough war for the pro-democracy camp.”
The camp already lost its chance to secure a separate seat in the same constituency, during the March by-election. Edward Yiu Chung-yim, also ousted during the oath-taking saga, lost to the pro-Beijing camp’s Vincent Cheng Wing-shun. Analysts said Yiu did not do enough on-the-ground campaigning or coordinate well with other pro-democracy parties.
Meanwhile, Chan chose to downplay her association with political parties, in an effort to appeal to voters in the middle, and announced a crowdfunding campaign to raise HK$1.1 million for her bid.
Making the announcement at a playground in Kowloon City, she emphasised her connection to the area, saying she grew up there.
The only well-known names on stage with her were Cheng, from the city’s largest pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), and her former boss Ko.
“Society in recent years has been polarised, with a lack of tolerance, respect and mutual trust, without even rationality at times,” she said.
Chan was not the pro-establishment camp’s top pick. That was Ko, but he turned it down, and the camp settled for Chan in the belief that her background and health knowledge would endear her to a wider audience.
Sources said the camp was not keen on fielding a party candidate, as it already had three of Kowloon West’s five other seats. If its candidate won the by-election and the camp had four seats, it would face problems in the 2020 election as there would be fighting among the parties if all four lawmakers sought a second term.
A DAB source confirmed this was why the party decided not to nominate a member for the November 25 by-election.
Name Frederick Fung Kin-kee
Occupation Full-time politician
Political affiliation Independent, formerly of the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (1986-2018)
Name Lau Siu-lai
Occupation Lecturer at Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College
Political affiliation Labour Party, Democracy Groundwork
Name Chan Hoi-yan
Occupation CEO of social enterprise Sounds Great
Political affiliation Independent