Posted: Nov. 17, 2015
Just because Hong Kong’s 18 Distract Councils deal only with the mundane details of neighborhood life doesn’t mean the overarching political tensions between pan-democrats and pro-Beijing loyalists plus their pro-government establishment allies do not signify. The contest between the two now looms over all things to do with government and politics. That includes especially elections, and the District Councils are no exception, especially given their evolving role within Hong Kong’s “organs of political power” (Nov. 10 post ).
Still, the old traditional veneration for social harmony appears … and disappears as needed … exploited by all sides. Everyone likes to say they hate the partisan divisions that are “tearing us apart.” Even Occupy Central leaders are lamenting the current discord. Hence ahead of next Sunday’s District Councils election, the candidates all proclaim their only desire is “to serve.” But true non-partisans no longer exist here, if they ever did, except maybe in the imaginations of non-participants. So everyone declares their desire to serve and at the same time everyone also either declares their partisan loyalties or manages to convey them even when declining to declare affiliations.
In past elections, most of those running as “independents” could be calculated as conservative pro-establishment. This year, several of the younger candidates are also caught up in the contradiction … not declaring, unless asked, that they were Occupy supporters.
Of the three candidates in my constituency, one is the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) incumbent. He’s a newcomer to the district that had always voted for a democrat until the last, 2011, election. The former incumbent was mysteriously called to account for misuse of office funds … just as Election Day was approaching and too late to recruit another candidate. The current incumbent’s campaign materials speak only of his service to the district … while copies of the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper, with daily doses of scurrilous articles about pan-democrats, are delivered to our doors free of charge.
Another candidate proclaims himself independent because, says his flier, Hong Kong’s experience during the past year illustrates the “restrictions of political parties.” He’s probably borderline conservative establishment … searching for the illusive “third way.”
The third candidate when asked directly will only say she is “not pro-Beijing.” Her flier explains further that she is “without party, without faction, but for self-determination.” She’s no doubt a new-style young democrat in the Joshua Wong mold because most others don’t use the English term “self-determination” to translate the Chinese phrase for “autonomy”【自主】.
This year, however, the protestations about harmony and service pale beside the Anti-Occupy campaign being waged by the main pro-Beijing political party … the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) … and its FTU ally. Giant headlines and rhetoric to match all proclaim the anti-Occupy Central message and all that Hong Kongers complained about during the protest: 79 days’ of traffic gridlock, declining business receipts, laws and regulations for maintaining public order flouted, Beijing’s authority defied, its universal suffrage framework voted down, citizens consequently deprived by pan-democrats of the chance for a universal suffrage Chief Executive election in 2017, and so on.
Photo exhibitions put up at subway stations and in prominent places around town recalled events in all their most negative aspects. The exhibitions were set up in over a dozen locations for three consecutive weekends ahead of the November 22 poll. Citizens were urged “not to forget the calamity, protect Hong Kong, drive out the dissidents” (Wen Wei Pao, Nov. 1). Danger still lurks but the DAB’s candidates are vigilant. All are pledged to eliminate the four dangers perpetrated by the democratic camp: Occupy Central, filibustering in the Legislative Council, violence on the streets, and black money (Nov. 2: Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Pao).
Whether their voters will be responding to this message … or to the fact that DAB/FTU incumbents now have proven track records as community-level social-service providers …. remains to be seen. Pundits are predicting the latter will guarantee their success at the polls. By extension it will also allow them to exploit their incumbents’ advantage for all its worth by proclaiming the success of their anti-Occupy message.
After vetting, the total number of validly nominated candidates is 935, vying for 431 seats in Hong Kong’s 18 District Councils.* Unlike all the others here, this is a simple election: 431 single-seat constituencies, elected via one-person, one-vote. No proportional representation; the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins the seat.
Of the 935 nominees, some 480 candidates are pro-Beijing loyalists and their allies. Of those, over 60 have already been elected since their seats are uncontested. Due to the number of uncontested seats, only 867 candidates will actually be vying for only 363 seats.
In contrast, pan-democrats are fielding a total of 328 candidates, with only three uncontested. Asked why they are allowing their adversaries so many free rides via the uncontested seas, pan-democrats say they lack the resources to compete in more races. The largest, Democratic Party, is fielding 95 candidates, compared to 132 in 2011 when the party suffered big losses.
Adding to their difficulties, of course, is the fragmentation of the democratic camp. The pro-Beijing DAB flagship is fielding 171 candidates and they, too, must share the limelight with many others. These include the FTU, Regina Ip’s New People’s Party, her Civil Force ally, the pro-business Liberal Party, its off-shoot the Business and Professional Alliance, plus multiple other associations and societies. Many of these also field candidates, especially in the suburban New Territories.
But they mostly all follow the golden electoral rules of candidate coordination and not speaking ill of each other, at least not on the campaign trail. “The DAB unites with one heart,” as the party saying goes.
Pan-democrats do try. The long-suffering Joseph Cheng Yu-shek is still acting as candidate coordinator. But that effort, pursued with difficulty from 2003, fell apart during the 2011 District Councils election campaign and the pieces have only been partially put back together. The oldest largest parties have formed a Democratic Coalition for the District Councils Election that agreed to follow the rules of good candidate behavior. These parties include: the Democratic Party, fielding 95 candidates; the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL) with 26; Civic Party, 25; the Democratic Party off-shoot Neo-democrats, 16; Labour Party, 12.
Altogether, this disciplined pan-democratic force is fielding 213 candidates. But many others have chosen to remain outside the coalition. These include several smaller new groups of young “umbrella warriors” 【傘兵】 from the Occupy movement and others bearing the new “local-ist” Hong Kong city-state message.
Altogether, contesting seats outside the main Democratic Coalition, including old and new groups plus pro-democracy independents: candidates number 115.
According to Ming Pao Daily‘s fact-checkers, these non-coalition candidates are set to split the pro-democracy vote in 46 constituencies. The Democratic Party stands to lose the most with candidates in 31 of these constituencies; the Civic Party in four; Labour Party also four; ADPL seven (Ming Pao, Nov. 3).
Topping out the total number of 935 candidates are over a hundred independents whose leanings remain unclear one way or the other.
With its incumbent’s advantage, 28,000+ members, a proven community service track record, well-behaved contingents of candidates … and 2,300 campaign workers neatly organized into five teams to serve the five categories of candidates: youth, women, professionals, incumbents, newcomers … it follows that the pro-Beijing camp also has the clearest election strategy for November 22.
When the DAB paid its duty visit to Beijing following the June 18 defeat of Beijing’s electoral reform mandate, the delegation received an official pep talk and injunction: win five more seats in the 2016 Legislative Council (Legco) election. That would give pro-establishment legislators the two-thirds super-majority they need to pass the Beijing-designed election reform bill over democratic objections.
Consequently, the pro-Beijing loyalist campaign strategy is not just to win as many District Council seats as possible on November 22, in order to build momentum for the more important 2016 Legco contest. They also need to win with the right sort of District Council candidates who can compete for the five “super-seats” in the Legislative Council.
These are the five seats that Albert Ho’s 2010 Legco election reform compromise created. As Democratic Party chairman, he was negotiating on behalf of the entire democratic camp when he accepted the official proposal to reserve five Legco seats for District Councilors. His condition was that although only District Councilors could nominate and be nominated for these five seats, they must be elected by a territory-wide constituency of all voters (Nov. 10 post).
Pan-democrats won three of the five seats in the 2012 Legco election. Hence the pro-Beijing strategy of targeting those three democratic incumbents while also trying to increase the roster of friendly District Councilors with territory-wide name recognition. They would have the best chance of successfully competing with pan-democrats for those seats in next year’s Legco election.
In this respect, at least, the DAB is at a disadvantage because it has few such big-name District Councilors with wider appeal. Pan-dems have the big names but few District Councilors. Of the two pro-Beijing legislators occupying those seats, one is now DAB chair; the other is retiring.
The super-seat democratic incumbents are Albert Ho; Frederick Fung Kin-kee of the ADPL; and the Democratic Party’s James To Kun-sun. All are vulnerable but none more so than the beleaguered Albert Ho. He is also being opposed, with typical pan-democratic bravado, by three other democrats who are using him as a foil to generate publicity for their frustrations with the democratic camp.
His is the far away Lok Tsui constituency with a seat on the Tuen Mun District Council in the northwestern New Territories. A total of six candidates are vying for this seat, more than in any other constituency. The main pro-establishment candidate is a well-connected lawyer in town with family ties in the New Territories … a combination hard to match. The candidate is Junius Ho Kuan-yiu. A retired civil servant will split the pro-establishment vote but probably not by much.
The most damage to Albert Ho from pan-democrats will likely be inflicted by candidate Cheng Chung-tai of the radical new local-ist group Civic Passion 【熱血公民】. Inspired by his example are two other pro-democracy candidates, one middle aged the other young and claiming Occupy credentials.
Civic Passion’s leader is Wong Yeung-tat, one-time protégé of Raymond “Mad Dog” Wong Yuk-man. It was Wong who promoted the parachute jump strategy into constituencies all over town for the 2011 District Councils election. He championed the idea of running his novice People Power candidates in constituencies also being contested by other “establishment” democrats, especially the Democratic Party. The idea was to “teach Albert Ho a lesson” for his 2010 compromise that created the five super seats (Nov. 14, 2011 post).
Ultimately, it was Raymond Wong who was taught the lesson. His campaign spurred pro-Beijing loyalists to even greater efforts and every one of his parachuters lost. He has since dropped out of party politics but there he was at the launch of Civic Passion’s campaign team … in acknowledgement that they are now carrying forward his parachuters’ crash-and burn strategy (Ming Pao, Oct.12).
Having parachuted into Albert Ho’s constituency, they are articulating many grievances against him, some old some new. The old score is still his 2010 compromise. Among the new is his failure to carry through with a plan to resign his Legco seat in protest against Beijing’s electoral reform mandate. They say he didn’t fight hard enough against it. In any case, the Democratic Party has become part of the Hong Kong political establishment and should be opposed as such.
A different kind of challenge has been created for Frederick Fung Kin-kee in his Kowloon constituency: Lai Kok, Sham Shui Po District Council. He is a moderate’s moderate, has been a community activist since the 1980s, and his small district-based ADPL party has never expanded much beyond his home base. So he surprised many with his firm opposition to Beijing’s electoral reform design and for once did not waver in his decision to vote on June 18 against the government’s motion to accept the design.
Now the day of reckoning is at hand. One of his two opponents next Sunday is Eric Wong Chung-ki, a former ADPL member who dropped out of politics over a decade ago after being found guilty of impersonating a Housing Department official. Who might have been behind his sudden reappearance remains unknown. But any votes he takes from Fung will benefit the constituency’s DAB/FTU candidate. She’s second generation FTU and has the pro-Beijing campaign juggernaut behind her. Meanwhile, the pro-Beijing press has been doing its best with full-page mockeries of Fung’s candidacy.
No special effort has apparently been made to unseat super-seat occupant James To, except for featuring him along with other candidates who supported Occupy. He’s standing for reelection in his Olympic constituency on the Yau Tsim Mong District Council in Kowloon. His opponent is a pro-Beijing independent. One big concern is the 30% increase in his district’s number of registered voters (Apple Daily, Oct. 8). Those must be mostly anti-Occupy anti-dem voters since pan-dems did so little to promote voter registration last summer.
ANOTHER DEFEAT FOR PAN-DEMS?
Watching the two sides prepare for Sunday’s poll, it’s easy to deduce at least one basic underlying reason for pan-dem difficulties. The problem is not lack of resources, candidates, bright ideas, or energy. It’s a failure to focus on their chief adversary’s endgame.
The failure is especially curious now that their opponents’ aim has been announced so clearly: five more seats in the Legislative Council will give loyalists and their allies the super-majority they need to do whatever they want.
Even more curious is that the main parties in the Democratic District Councils Election Coalition do foresee the result. Their failure instead is not to have used their foresight to convey any sense of urgency … and to explain to newcomers in their midst much less to the wider voting public.
What’s underway here is what old-fashioned party theorists used to call a take-over from below, being orchestrated with masterful precision. In fact, the DAB and its allies have already “taken over” all of Hong Kong’s elected councils. All that remains are those five Legco seats.
But most curious of all is Civic Passion since despite its followers’ unruly behavior, they also can do some serious political thinking. So can Raymond Wong. That being the case, they need to explain why it’s more important to take down Albert Ho than try to save pan-dems’ remaining minority seats in the Legislative Council while there’s still time. He has indicated he might retire but pan-dems might need him to fill out their candidate list in 2016.
It’s possible that like Nelson Wong Sing-chi, one of the Democratic Party’s recent departures, they really see no harm in a complete loyalist takeover (Ming Pao, Nov. 4). Or it’s possible that, like one of Albert Ho’s constituents, his pan-dem campaign opponents are pretty certain he cannot be dislodged from his perch. So they are using the election campaign as a risk-free opportunity … one more chance to try and get their anti-communist anti-mainlander message across.
* Save time. Someone else has already done it. Google “Hong Kong local elections 2015,” for a good calculation of candidate numbers and political affiliations https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_local_elections,_2015 .
Posted by Suzanne Pepper on Nov. 17, 2015.