Posted: Sept. 13, 2012
Whenever pro-democracy voters are especially exercised over some issue, the opposition mobilizes to strengthen its lines of defense and block their advance. That provocative interaction between pan-democrats and pro-Beijing forces has driven turnout rates several times since the British departed in 1997, and the 2012 Legislative Council (Legco) election fit the pattern perfectly. Voter turnout was high for Hong Kong: 53% of 3.46 million registered voters in the Geographic Constituencies cast their ballots on Election Day, September 9. Of those 1.83 million people, 1.67 million cast a second vote in the new super-seat District Council (2) Functional Constituency. They represented 51.9% of the 3.22 million eligible to vote in the new transitional reform category. The weather was good, everything was well-managed and orderly, and everyone congratulated themselves on a job well done … everyone except pan-democrats.
Not only did their worst case scenario play out for the five new seats that had been added to the Geographic Constituencies (Sept. 7 post), but pro-democracy candidates failed even to hold all the seats they had won in the last Legco election. The camp won 19 of 30 directly-elected Geographic Constituency seats in 2008; this time its take was 18 of 35. The once proud Democratic Party that began life as standard bearer for Hong Kong’s democracy movement won only four of these seats in a performance so humiliating that Albert Ho finally felt obliged to tender his resignation as chairman. Even worse, the customary democratic majority vote ratio continued its downward slide from the post-1997 60:40 norm. Calculations vary around a new 56:44 benchmark.
In the old Functional Constituencies, pan-democrats retained all four of their seats and won two more to make six of 30 total. Their only clear success was registered in the new District Council (2) Functional Constituency where they won three of five. Albert Ho and fellow Democrat James To were among the winners but in terms of voter percentages there wasn’t anything to celebrate here either. The net achievement overall for pan-democrats was 27 seats, just barely enough for their one-third so-called “veto-proof” guarantee in the newly expanded 70-seat council. In fact, that minority counts for little since a two-thirds super-majority is required only for political reform legislation and impeaching the Chief Executive. It also counts for little because pan-dems seem incapable of agreeing as a bloc on anything. They failed to hold together even when they needed their veto most, for use against the government’s 2010 political reform package.
RESULTS OVERALL, for 70 Legco Seats
|super (5)||traditional (30)|
Pan-dems: ADPL-Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood; CP/PC-Civic Party and Professional Commons; DP-Democratic Party; L-Labor Party; LSD-League of Social Democrats; Neo-NeoDemocrats; NWSC-Neighborhood (Kaifong) and Worker’s Service Center; PP-People Power
Pro-Beijing: DAB-DemocraticAlliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong; FTU-Federation of Trade Union
Pro-establismnent/conservative: LP/ES-Liberal Party and Economic Synergy; NPP-New People’s Party. “Others” are hard-to-differentiate non-party people. Some but not all vote with the pro-Beijing hard core (DAB/FTU) on most if not all political issues.
RESULTS OVERALL: Seats, Votes (%), By District
First remember the contests that voters had to contemplate and the choices to consider:
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)|
Ming Pao Daily (Sept. 11) combined all candidates into pan-democrats versus everyone else (pro-Beijing plus pro-establishment conservatives) to calculate seats won and vote ratios:
|Hong Kong Island||7 seats: 3 pan-dems; 4 others|
|votes: 54.8% pan-dems; 45.2% others|
|Kowloon East||5 seats: 2 pan-dems; 3 others|
|votes: 54.3% pan-dems; 45.7% others|
|Kowloon West||5 seats: 3 pan-dems; 2 others|
|votes: 61.7% pan-dems; 38.3% others|
|New Territories East||9 seats: 6 pan-dems; 3 others|
|votes: 55% pan-dems; 45% others|
|New Territories West||9 seats: 4 pan-dems; 5 others|
|votes: 57% pan-dems; 43% others|
Super-seat votes were split evenly: 50.7% for the three pan-democratic candidates and 49.3% for the three DAB/FTU candidates plus photo-op candidate Pamela Peck. She won 60,000 votes out of the 1.67 million total cast for these seats. If they are calculated together with the 1.83 million cast for Geographic Constituency candidates, pan-democrats’ share of the total direct vote was down to 55%.*
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
Turnout was high enough, at 53% of all registered voters, to indicate an elevated degree of partisan protest. The turnout was also 53% in 1998 when voters came out to restore the Legislative Council that was disbanded after Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty. The precedent-setting 55.6% in 2004, reflected continuing public anger over the government’s 2003 attempt to push through its national political security legislation and Beijing’s subsequent attempt in early 2004 to teach Hong Kong a lesson by strengthening the Basic Law’s barriers to political reform. A high turnout is conventionally thought to favor pan-democrats and on September 9 all the omens seemed to be in their favor.
The numbers of feet-on-the-ground at pro-democracy marches and rallies have been up for the past two years and the wind seemed to be at their backs after the political studies issue flared suddenly in July. All the pro-democracy candidates came out against the new compulsory course whereas none of the others did so. Thousands of protesting parents, teachers, and students had occupied the open space in front of Hong Kong’s new government headquarters complex for days prior to the election. Literally at the 11th hour (6:15 p.m.) on September 8, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying called a press conference to announce that the compulsory deadlines for introducing the new course would be abandoned. Schools could teach it or not as they chose.
So how did pan-democrats manage to achieve such disappointing results? Once all the voter turnout figures are analyzed there will be many reasons to consider like: age cohorts young and old; the DAB/FTU voter registration drive last spring that pan-democrats seem to have ignored; new mainland migrants in the northern New Territories border constituencies; surreptitious late-afternoon tips by exit-pollsters to get-out-the-vote campaign workers on Election Day; gratuities like free rides to polling stations for conservative old folks, special price moon cakes, and year around rice handouts; the vote planting problem created by some people who try to vote in constituencies where they do not or no longer reside, etc., etc. But in addition to all those factors, two others stand out at first glance: (1) the flaws and unforced errors that marred pan-democracy campaigning from start to finish, and (2) a near flawless performance by their pro-Beijing opponents … (to be continued).
* Full returns, in Chinese and English, are posted on the government’s website: www.elections.gov.hk