Hong Kong’s pan-democrats failed on Monday to take back the power to veto their rivals’ moves, as their disqualified champion Edward Yiu Chung-yim lost his bid to re-enter the legislature.
The result in the Kowloon West constituency was a surprise reversal for the bloc in a traditional stronghold, and capped a by-election in which its vote share dropped to between 44 per cent and 51 per cent in the three geographical constituencies in play.
Across those three, the pan-democrats, the pro-establishment camp and other candidates got 47.4 per cent, 43.2 per cent and 9.4 per cent of ballots respectively. Pan-democrats used to be able to count on up to 60 per cent of votes, with that slipping to about 55 per cent in recent years.
Earlier on Monday, Gary Fan Kwok-wai and Au Nok-hin won their races for the camp – in New Territories East and Hong Kong Island respectively – restoring some parity in the Legislative Council, both blocs having 16 seats each in the geographical group. Pro-establishment candidate Tony Tse Wai-chuen took the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape seat to enlarge the camp’s dominance in the functional constituency group to 25 to 10.
And just before 8am, it was announced after a recount that Kowloon West would go to pro-establishment candidate Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, who got 107,479 votes. Yiu got 105,060 votes and lost by a margin of 1.1 per cent.
The ballots were recounted at 5am at Yiu’s request, but only confirmed his defeat in a constituency where pro-democracy candidates won four of six seats in the 2016 general election.
Yiu, who accepted responsibility for his defeat, attributed the result to a “lack of experience” and “inappropriate” campaign arrangements. He said he missed out some canvassing spots in the constituency.
“I have to bear all the responsibility,” Yiu said. “We did not put up enough posters, banners … and we started our campaign too late … as we had to wait for confirmation of my declaration from the returning officer.”
Yiu did not have his candidacy confirmed until January 29 – the final day of the by-election nomination period.
Cheng said he will focus on welfare issues in the legislature while his party’s leader Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the result – the first Legco by-election win in a geographical seat for the camp – was encouraging.
The pan-democrats must now wait for the results of former lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Lau Siu-lai’s appeals against their disqualifications, for any chance to regain their veto power.
On Hong Kong Island, Au bagged 137,181 votes to beat the New People’s Party’s Judy Chan Ka-pui, who got 127,634. The two candidates accounted for 97.9 per cent of 271,000 valid votes in the constituency.
But Au said it was “not a total victory” for the pro-democracy camp. He said there was little time for him to prepare for the election after Demosisto’s Agnes Chow Ting was disqualified from the by-election, and that it had been a tough campaign. Chow said Au was an “important partner” for her party, adding that the camp had to stay unified.
Fan, of the NeoDemocrats, got 183,762 votes, beating key rival Bill Tang Kwok-wai of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who got 152,904 votes.
In the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency, Tse regained his seat by getting 2,929 votes to defeat pan-democrat rival Paul Zimmerman, who got 2,345. Tse was defeated by Yiu in 2016.
Chan said she was satisfied with the results, losing by a margin of 9,500 votes.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the party’s chairwoman, said the pan-democrats had underperformed in the poll. Citing a Hong Kong Island by-election back in 2007, which she lost to former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, Ip said: “I got some 130,000 votes back then, while Anson Chan garnered way more votes than Au did this time. The pan-democratic camp has failed to take back all these votes this time.” Anson Chan got 175,874 votes in 2007, 38,324 more votes than Au this time.
Sunday’s by-election was to fill four of the six seats vacated by pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified by the courts for failing to take their oath of office properly in 2016.
The four were Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, Yau Wai-ching, and Yiu, who were elected in the Hong Kong Island, New Territories East and Kowloon West geographical constituencies, as well as the architectural functional constituency respectively. The other two, Leung and Lau, have been appealing their disqualifications, and by-elections will only be held if they lose.
While pan-democrats have seen the by-election as a de facto referendum on the disqualifications, Ip said the saga did not play a key role as “the issue had already been digested by voters”.
In New Territories East, beaten candidate Bill Tang said the constituency is a tough battleground for the pro-establishment side. Non-affiliated candidate Christine Fong Kwok-shan almost doubled her vote tally from a 2016 by-election there.She got 64,905 votes this time, but said she had been expecting even more.
In a reference to veteran actor Bowie Wu Fung, Fong said: “Like my godfather said, it is the misfortune of the Hong Kong people that I can’t enter the council.”
The Sai Kung district councillor did not rule out running in future elections, despite stating earlier that she had exhausted her savings.
When polls closed at 10.30pm on Sunday, 904,000 of 2.1 million registered voters in the four constituencies had cast their ballots, and turnout was 43 per cent. In the 2016 polls, turnout was 58.3 per cent.
Barnabas Fung Wah, chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, said the turnout for the functional constituency stood out at 70 per cent, with 5,300 of some 7,600 voters casting their ballot. In the geographical constituencies, the turnout for Kowloon West, Hong Kong Island and New Territories were 44, 43 and 42 per cent, respectively, he said.
In the general election in 2016, the pan-democratic camp won 30 seats, and dominated the geographical group with 19 of them.
But when six of their number were disqualified, the camp was left with 14 seats in the geographical group. Since then, the pro-establishment camp has dominated both the geographical and functional groups, with 16 and 24 seats respectively.
The split-voting rule does not apply to government bills and motions, which only need a simple majority in the whole chamber.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok