Defeated election candidate Lee Cheuk-yan called on Hong Kong’s pan-democrats and localists to work together in future polls after a loss that revealed shrinking support for the opposition camp.
The Labour Party stalwart and long-time legislator, 61, also said he would run in no more elections.
He represented the pro-democracy camp in Sunday’s Kowloon West by-election for a seat in the Legislative Council. He lost to the pro-establishment camp’s Chan Hoi-yan, a former political assistant, by more than 13,000 votes.
Speaking two days after the poll, Lee said young voters, especially localists, may feel unrepresented and have no motivation to vote.
During the 2016 general elections, localist candidates took a third of the vote in Kowloon West, but the pro-establishment camp has won two consecutive by-elections in the constituency since then.
Rather than having pan-democrats represent localist voters, Lee said the localists should find candidates to enter the citywide district council elections next year.
“They might not want to be represented by us,” Lee said.
In turn, Lee said, pan-democrats should “find space” for localist candidates.
While both sides mostly oppose the city’s government, pan-democrats believe in the democratisation of China generally while localists, a more recent emergence, focus on the welfare of Hongkongers specifically.
Though their political ideals may differ, Lee said pan-democrats and localists had common ground at the policy level.
“For example, the right to approve one-way permits. Both would agree it should be given back [to Hong Kong],” Lee said. Up to 150 mainland Chinese every day are allowed into Hong Kong under the one-way permit scheme, but the city has no autonomy over the issuing of permits.
The pro-democracy camp originally endorsed ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai for the Kowloon West poll. Lau had been kicked out of the legislature along with five other elected lawmakers for improper oath-taking.
Lee said he felt no regret about ending his electoral career with a defeat, two years after losing his Legco seat.
“It is nothing to me. Why should I be so concerned with my personal legacy?” Lee said.
He said the pressure of the campaign brought him to tears many times, especially when he felt moved by messages from his campaign team and supporters.
“We have fought a good battle, and I do not have any regrets,” he said.
The veteran labour rights activist, elected as a lawmaker seven times from 1995 before losing in the 2016 general election, said his camp would have to face the issue of young people being dissatisfied with the electoral system.
“The most toxic thing about the disqualifications is that a whole generation of people feel unrepresented,” Lee said.
Since 2016, nine politicians in Hong Kong have been barred from entering local elections, on the grounds that they do not intend to uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, in the opinion of returning officers.
Those barred include 27-year-old localist Edward Leung Tin-kei, the former spokesman of Hong Kong Indigenous.
Demosisto’s Agnes Chow Ting, 21, had her application turned down during the March by-election because her group advocated the city’s self-determination.
Though he has bowed out from future elections, Lee said he would remain active in labour rights activism and help his camp train young politicians.
“I hope to fight alongside new faces,” he said.