Posted: Sept. 7, 2012
Electioneering is usually fun to watch even when tactics and rhetoric are something less than edifying and Hong Kong is no exception on all counts. Public attention is naturally focused on the 35 directly-elected Geographic Constituency seats and the five new super-seat category because everyone can have a hand in deciding winners and losers. Except for a few Functional Constituencies such as education and law that allow individual voting by the professionals in those sectors, the FC seats generate little wider public interest (Aug. 20 post).
The five super-seats are newly introduced so it’s still too soon to see what sort of impact they might have. These seats resulted from the 2010 political reform controversy and some who opposed the compromise that created them are now calling on voters to cast blank protest ballots in the super-seat category. All voters who do not belong to any of the old FCs can vote in the new category, which means that all registered voters will now receive two ballots on Election Day: one for the Geographic Constituencies and the other EITHER for one of the old FCs or for the new category. This last is called the District Council (2) Constituency because only members ofHong Kong’s 18 District Councils can qualify as candidates, although the city will be treated as one single territory-wide constituency for purposes of vote allocation. There is also an old-style District Council FC that selects one District Councilor to sit in the Legislative Council. Since there are only seven candidates for the five new-style seats, the need to try and game the system with strategic voting is less urgent. In fact, there are only six real candidates: three pan-democrats and three pro-Beijing loyalists and polls continue to indicate that two of each will win while the fifth seat could go either way.
MORE ON STRATEGIC VOTING
As for the 35 Geographic Constituencies, with all their lists and candidates proportionally apportioned, voters have to spend some time thinking about how their contribution can be used to best advantage, which is what has led to the practice of pei piao or “strategic voting” (Aug. 29 post). The trouble with this practice is that it’s as much about guesswork as strategy and voters are spoiled for choice as the basic line-up shows. New Territories constituencies offer the most possibilities; Kowloon is easiest; Hong Kong Island is in-between:
The Geographic Constituencies: 5 districts, 35 seats, 67 lists, 216 candidates
|Hong Kong Island: 7 seats 14 lists (pan-dems, 5; pro-establishment, 5; independent, 4)|
|Kowloon East: 5 seats 9 lists (pan-dems, 4; pro-establishment, 2; independent, 3)|
|Kowloon West: 5 seats 9 lists (pan-dems, 4; pro-establishment, 2; independent 3)|
|New Territories East: 9 seats 19 lists (pan-dems, 8; pro-establishment, 6; independent, 5)|
|New Territories West: 9 seats 16 lists (pan-dems, 8; pro-establishment, 6; independent, 2)|
The problem faced by serious voters committed to one camp or the other is that the tracking polls have projected some widely differing possible outcomes (to say nothing of the differences that disparate partisan polls can produce). Also, as of September 2, 25+% of respondents remained either undecided or unwilling to show their hand to pollsters. Accuracy, in other words, is always in doubt. Just to illustrate the difficulties, Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Program tracking poll for Hong Kong Island (published in Ming Pao Daily, Aug. 20) illustrated the differences in support levels between Aug. 14-18 and Aug. 7-11 (in parentheses):
Hong Kong Island Constituency, 7 seats
|Candidates||Aug. 14-18 (Aug. 7-11)|
|CP: K.Chan/T. Chan||17% (+7%)|
|DP: Sin Chung-kai||9% (same)|
|NPP: R. Ip||7% (-5%)|
|DAB: Tsang Yok-sing||6% (-13%)|
|FTU: Wong Kwok-hing||5% (+1%)|
|PP: C. Lau||5% (+1%)|
|Ind.: Lo Wing-lok||5% (+1%)|
|L: Cyd Ho||4% (-2%)|
|LP: M. Lau||3% (same)|
|DAB: C. Chung||2% (same)|
|LSD: A. Ng||1% (+ 1%)|
|Ind.: Hui Ching-on||Less than 0.5%|
|Ind.: Ho||Less than 0.5%|
|Ind.: Ng||Less than 0.5%%|
Pan-dems: CP-Civic Party; DP-Democratic Party; PP-People Power; LSD-League of Social Democrats; L-Labor Party
Pro-Beijing: DAB-Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong; FTU-Federation of Trade Unions
Pro-establismnent/conservative: NPP-New People’s Party; LP-Liberal Party.
The line-up shows the Civic Party ticket probably with enough support to elect its second listed candidate, Tanya Chan, as well as the party’s current chairman, Kenneth Chan. The top four lists have been among the top four throughout and are probably safe, although Tanya may not be. Similarly, all those at the bottom of the list beginning with the pro-business Liberal Party’s chair, Miriam Lau, are probably out of the race. The uncertainties are those in-between with 4-5% each and partisans will consider the options carefully before making their choices.
Since the pro-Beijing camp has the most disciplined ground game in town (even to the point of having exit pollsters report back results to party headquarters from key constituencies on Election Day), it can be assumed that the FTU candidate will win the sixth seat. This can be achieved with comprehensive get-out-the-vote calls/messages that will try to balance his share with that of DAB star Jasper Tsang Yok-sing. They will also probably pull votes away from the DAB’s losing second list to strengthen the other two. (Another poll shows the DAB’s second list actually doing better than the FTU.)
Cyd Ho has built a loyal grassroots district-level base that allowed her to come from behind in 2008. But her nearest competitor then was not another strong radical. People Power chairman Christopher Lau’s poll numbers have been rising steadily whereas hers have not and he is no doubt being helped by the number two on his list: Stephen Shiu Yuek-yuen, a popular online broadcaster who runs hkreporter.com.
The August 29-September 2 update from the HKU-POP tracking poll showed a similar line-up for the top four Hong Kong Island lists, with slightly lower support levels, and uncertainties still for the somewhat re-ordered middle-ranking candidates. Cyd Ho was still on the margin, People Power’s Lau was still moving up, and the Democratic Party candidate was moving down (published in Hsin Pao/Hong Kong Economic Journal, Sept. 4).
In such a situation, the pro-Beijing camp’s organization and discipline becomes a clear advantage. They can pretty much guarantee two seats for their side and New People’s Party Regina Ip will win the third pro-establishment seat. If pan-democrats were as well disciplined, they might coordinate their majority share of the Hong Kong Island vote to win five of the seven seats. But no such thing has ever happened before and nothing suggests it will happen this time either. On the contrary. As a net result, pan-democrats seem likely to win only four seats in this constituency or the same as in 2008 when it had six seats, and the pro-establishment camp will win bragging rights for taking Hong Kong Island’s new seventh seat.
POLITICKING HONG KONG-STYLE
A week after publication of the August 20 tracking poll, Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho sent up his party’s usual “crisis” rocket … except that his emergency call appeared too soon. This has become a Democratic Party tradition (now adopted by many others), usually activated just before Election Day. The idea is to motivate supporters and warn against complacency. Pan-democrats have long since stopped ringing door bells whereas the pro-Beijing camp keeps in much closer contact with its constituents. But this time the party sprang into action earlier than usual after seeing an unpublished update of the HKU tracking poll and discovering its candidates’ support levels falling ominously everywhere. The decline was allegedly because of a stepped up attack by People Power candidates still fighting the political reform battle of 2010 against the tired old Democratic Party and its compromising ways (Ming Pao Daily Aug. 27, 28; Apple Daly, Aug. 30).
Albert Ho was speaking after a community forum for the super-seat candidates. Hong Kong’s election rules (mercifully) forbid media advertising. But they also mandate that any media news report on any one candidate must mention all his/her opponents. This makes for some awkward reporting especially from the New Territories constituencies with all their lists and candidates. It has also produced some unedifying television debates although these have been due as much to bad management as the presence of so many candidate teams on a single TV set.
TV debates are relatively new here, dating back to the Civic Party’s demand for a debate with the then Chief Executive heir apparent Donald Tsang in 2007. Since then they have become regular features of electioneering and the two main local channels are sponsoring between them separate debates for each constituency: functional, geographic, and the new super-seat category. But the latter two have produced mostly hour-long shouting matches. A representative of each list gives a brief statement and then someone from each team can question others who answer back with the moderators serving only as time-keepers. No one steps in to prevent cross-talking or impose some sort of issue-oriented discipline on the discussion.
Little has come from these debates other than restatements of the candidates’ basic positions on key issues (Aug. 29 post) that are also proclaimed at rallies and in the deluge of postage-free circulars filling every registered voter’s mailbox. Little, that is, except for one substantive new note that appeared throughout, namely, a new-found willingness among pan-democrats to confront pro-Beijing candidates face-to-face about who they are and what they represent, placing them on the defensive throughout these exchanges. This new note seems to derive partly from the radicalism of People Power candidates. Previously it was only “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung who indulged in such daring excess. But the new defiance stems also from increasing general anger over mainland intrusions in Hong Kong’s way of life, epitomized by the still roiling national political education controversy (July 31 post).*
A spin-off of this new open defiance is the willingness to call out pseudo-independents or those with close ties to the pro-Beijing camp who have tried to hide them by calling themselves non-partisan. In years past, campaign discourse surrounding such candidates was conducted mainly by insinuation and innuendo, allowing them to continue with their denials. This year, thanks also to some investigative digging by Ming Pao Daily reporters, independents Priscilla Leung Mei-fun in Kowloon West and Paul Tse Wai-chun in Kowloon East have both been “outed” for their close ties to pro-Beijing groups and partisans who are supporting their campaigns (Ming Pao, Aug. 27, 28). The poll numbers of these two candidates, who both seemed set to win, have dropped sharply since those reports appeared.
TRENDS TO WATCH
Turnout should be up on 2008 (45% of all registered voters). The precedent-setting record high was for the 2004 election (55.6%), in the aftermath of the great 2003 upsurge against the government’s national political security legislation. Anger is similar this year due to the national political education issue but the respective protests are nowhere near comparable. On July 1, 2003, an undisputed half-million people came out to march in protest and agitation continued throughout the year afterward. This year the parent-teachers march on July 29 protesting the new political studies curriculum was a disputed 90,000. Nevertheless, a common pattern will probably be repeated: whenever pan-democrats are especially agitated, the pro-Beijing camp mobilizes accordingly to counter anticipated increased pro-democracy turnouts and keep them from being translated into more Legco seats.
Such efforts have been successful in the past because pan-democrats cannot bring themselves to coordinate their campaigns in a similar disciplined fashion. This time the pro-Beijing camp has added many lists everywhere to their usual number of candidate slates, in a concerted effort to exploit the system and hold the line against pan-democratic gains. The strategy seems set to succeed again if tracking polls are any indication. Consequently, it would not be surprising if pan-democrats do not win any of the five new Geographic Constituency seats although they should retain the 19 they won in 2008.
Specifically, pan-democrats will probably not win any new seats in two of the three Geographic Constituencies: Hong Kong Island and New Territories West. But based on the latest above-cited update of the HKU POP tracking poll (for Aug. 29-Sept. 2, with 25+% still undecided), pan-democrats could pick up three Geographic Constituency seats. They may also win three of five in the new super-seat category.**
That means the overall balance between democrats and pro-Beijing loyalists/conservatives in the Legislative Council will probably not be much different than it is now. At present, pan-democrats hold 23 of 60 seats total (38%). If the projected gains hold (and they retain a few old FC seats) pan-democrats could occupy maybe as many as 29 of 70 (41%). Also, if present tends hold, it looks like radical People Party representation will increase at the expense of its Democratic Party rival, which means Legco will become even more of a platform for frustrated protest than for serious debate.***
* Candidates’ position on political education circulated by the parents’ cocnern group on election eve: http://parentsconcern.hk/survey/?lang=en
** Another tracking poll (on-line in Chinese): http://election.thehousenews.com/ .
*** For a different fully documented perspective, see the latest Baptist University Transition Project survey report, available from Sept. 6, afternoon, at: http://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=BAVRR&m=JI_cOaYEoeHSP4&b=wz5.j4mMupspVQnSB6uLhA