What can HK’s pro-democrats do to claw back their lost seats in the next by-election?

Justin Wong

The first quarter of 2018 has been a bit of a disaster for the pro-democratic crowd. Here’s where they’ve gone wrong

Justin Wong |

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After their latest setback, pan-democrats need to find a way to win back the voters.

We’re already a quarter of the way into 2018, and I think I can safely use the words “disastrous” and “horrendous” to describe the past four months for Hong Kong’s democrats.

The biggest letdown for them this year was the Legislative Council by-election in March, in which they scored less votes than their pro-establishment counterpart. They won back only two of the four seats up for grabs. Edward Yiu Chung-yim, one of the disqualified, lost to the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong’s Vincent Cheng Wing-sun in the Kowloon West constituency, one of their supposed strongholds. The other seat they lost was the architectural, surveying, planning, and landscape one. 

The by-election results indicate there is still a huge rift between the left and right. Just before election day, several localist Facebook pages called for their followers in the New Territories East constituency to vote against the Neo Democrats’ candidate Gary Fan Kwok-wai. Fan won the seat regardless, but he failed to gain the majority in areas with strong localist support. 

The problems don’t end there for the pro-democrats. Yiu’s campaign was built on the unfairness of disqualification. The vote distribution showed Yiu had been outvoted in places like Kai Ching Estate – one of the estates that found themselves at the centre of a tainted water scandal – where he was expected to have gained favour. Despite small victories in middle-class areas like Whampoa and Mei Foo, the losses for the pro-democrats were too great to overcome. 

Two seats, those left vacant by pro-democrats Lau Siu-lai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, have yet to be filled. With another by-election coming up to fill them, the pro-democratic camp will need to act now if they want them back.

They need to start making more concessions to localists. The number of localism supporters are growing, and localists can potentially swing the result of any election. The next by-election will be another head-to-head for one seat, and the pan-democrats will need all the support they can get. 

Democrats like to blame localists for not reacting enough to controversial decisions, and not coordinating with them in elections. If they were to alternate candidates in each election, then votes might not be split across the two camps. Concentrating all their votes on one person might mean they beat the pro-Beijing camp soundly.  

They also need to stick to more traditional ways of campaigning – or at least not forget about them. Yiu campaigned on an “anti-disqualification” stance via social media. The Kowloon West constituency consists of districts that have a large elderly population who don’t know how to use many forms of modern technology.

For many citizens, the concept of “system justice” is not a good enough reason to vote, either, as it does not affect things they care about, like the price of food, or law and order. Maybe it’s time for the democratic crowd to go back to basics with their campaigning, lest they lose two more seats to the opposition.

Edited by Ginny Wong