The most significant loser from Hong Kong’s opposition camp in Sunday’s Legislative Council by-election has urged his colleagues to plan better for the district council polls next year to bridge the divide with voters who denied them two out of four seats they were hoping to win back.
Former legislator Edward Yiu Chung-yim, one of the pan-democrats’ star candidates who lost in the Kowloon West constituency on Sunday, also conceded that his bloc had its work cut out to explain the rationale behind their political moves in Legco, which have been criticised as unnecessarily confrontational.
Yiu was candid about his shortcomings in an interview with the Post on Tuesday, a day after he became the first pro-democracy candidate to be defeated by a Beijing loyalist in a Legco by-election since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Also joining the interview was pan-democrat Paul Zimmerman, who lost to another pro-establishment candidate in the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency.
Their allies, Gary Fan Kwok-wai and Au Nok-hin, fared better and won seats in the New Territories East and Hong Kong Island constituencies respectively.
Yiu was one of six opposition lawmakers disqualified and stripped of their seats for failing to take their oaths of office properly in 2016.
Four of those seats were contested in Sunday’s by-election, which the pan-democratic camp had portrayed as a de facto referendum on the disqualifications, counting on a voter backlash against the establishment to regain lost ground.
It ended badly for them, with Yiu’s defeat in particular proving a bitter pill to swallow, as he lost to Vincent Cheng Wing-shun in a constituency that has long been an opposition stronghold.
An analysis of Yiu’s performance, with 48.8 per cent of the votes, showed that while he fared better than his rival in middle-class districts, he did poorly in public housing estates.
He was also strongly criticised by angry callers during a radio phone-in programme on Tuesday, with some slamming him for being “arrogant and reluctant to work closely” with pan-democratic parties in his campaign.
An apologetic Yiu blamed his defeat primarily on his lack of experience in direct elections and advised his political allies to plan better for the district council polls next year to ensure they would do well in the full Legco elections to follow in 2020.
“If we can have more district councillors in every geographical constituency, then we can pay more attention to grass-roots needs and have a better connection,” he said.
There are 18 district councils in Hong Kong, comprising 431 directly elected seats. In the 2015 polls, the pan-democrats’ foothold increased slightly from around 90 seats to 100, while the pro-establishment camp’s tally decreased from about 310 to about 300.
The district councillors, who focus on public services enhancements, have played a vital role in supporting their party colleagues’ and allies’ Legco bids. Yiu was criticised earlier for undervaluing the district councillors’ role in the run-up to the by-election.
Choices of the rich, poor and middle-class: how Hong Kong Island residents voted in Sunday’s by-election
Zimmerman also conceded that he had failed to work on expanding his camp’s support in his functional constituency, and that more effective strategies would be needed in 2020.
“We’ve been holding our ground quite nicely; the question is, in the future, how can we get professionals in Hong Kong across,” he said, referring to the trade-based seats they would have to contest.
In 2016, Yiu was elected in the architectural constituency with 2,491 votes, defeating pro-establishment candidates Tony Tse Wai-chuen and Bernard Lim Wan-fung, who garnered 2,009 votes and 1,235 votes respectively.
This time, Tse was elected with 2,929 votes, while Zimmerman managed 2,345.
Zimmerman said his camp had hoped to win over some of Lim’s voters.
“We weren’t able to do that, and we have to reflect on why,” he said.
Looking ahead, Yiu suggested pan-democratic lawmakers put more effort into explaining why they opposed certain government proposals and policies, so voters would not see their stance as opposition for the sake of it rather than a valid reason.
“In the past we simply [made] some gesture, we voted and debated without explaining [it] well,” he admitted.
Yiu added that since last year, his camp had been trying to make sure it offered “good counterproposals” when opposing a public funding request. This strategy would have to be further developed, he said.