Your Second Vote: Pan-dems bring their own Kryptonite to super seat elections

Pan-dems have abandoned their winning ways in the super seat election. Will it prove their electoral Kryptonite, leaving the establishment to win the day?


(Chinese original please see here.)

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Super-Candidates!

If this election determines which super seat candidates will become super seat legislators, it looks like the pan-democrats are bringing their own Kryptonite to the party.

From the planet FC

This is the second LegCo election since the District Council (Second) constituency, aka. super seats, was set up in 2012. The super seats take up five seats out of the 35 in the functional constituencies. Voters who are not eligible to vote in the traditional functional constituencies can vote in District Council (Second) elections. In other words, the super seats constituency covers a Hong Kong-wide electorate. Candidates must be a district councilor to stand for these seats.

The odd nature of the system means that friends run against each other, competing for votes in the same voting pool, but try to do so in a way they all get elected. In 2012, Albert Ho Chun-yan (何俊仁) and James To Kun-sun (涂謹申) of Democratic Party stood in the super seat election, as did Frederick Fung Kin-kee (馮檢基) of Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL).  All of them were elected, taking three of the five super seats.

From the pro-establishment camp, Lau Kong-wah (劉江華) and Starry Lee Wai-king (李慧琼) of DAB, Chan Yuen-han (陳婉嫻) of HKFTU, and independent candidate Pamela Peck Wan-kam (白韻琹) joined the race. Only Starry Lee and Chan Yuen-han made it to LegCo.

Some point out that fielding too many candidates accounts for the pro-establishment’s failure to take majority of the five super seats. This year, they seem to have learnt their lesson, sending only three line-ups to the super seat race.

Meanwhile, the pan-democrats are straying from their winning strategy and have doubled their number of line-ups to six: James To Kun-sun (涂謹申) of Democratic Party, Roy Kwong Chun-yu (鄺俊宇) of Democratic Party, Kalvin Ho Kai-ming (何啟明) of ADPL, Sumly Chan Yuen-sum (陳琬琛) of Civic Party, Leung Yiu-chong (梁耀忠) of Neighbourhood & Worker’s Service Centre (NWSC), and Kwan Wing-yip (關永業) of Neo Democrats leads the only multi-name ticket from the camp.

Pan-democrats in Hong Kong have a tradition of ‘coordination’ – candidates in the same camp will not crowd into the same riding to run against one another, so as to prevent pro-democracy votes from being spread too thin among different candidates. However, this is not happening in the super seat race. The pan-democrats sent even more candidates this year than the pro-establishment did in 2012. Sumly Chan told Harbour Times that he is worried that the pan-democrats’ electoral results “might not be as good as expected”.

Why wouldn’t the pan-democrats ‘coordinate’? Harbour Times interviewed the pan-democrat candidates. They each have their own explanation.

Fame matters

What is the key to winning the super seat race? According to Frederick Fung, who was elected in 2012, exposure is important. Increasing media exposure is top priority in the campaign, contrary to geographical elections, which emphasises community work in the constituency.

“Radio broadcast, press, and online campaigning are very important. If all you do is hand out leaflets, you cannot reach out to that many people in the entirety of Hong Kong,” Fung explains. “Geographical races are different. Geographical constituencies are smaller [in area], you can afford to campaign on the streets for longer hours.”

However, Fung was defeated in the District Council elections in 2015. No longer a district councilor, he cannot run for re-election in District Council (Second). As a result, the ADPL dispatched Kalvin Ho.

Apart from personal exposure, party popularity is just as decisive. Sumly Chan of Civic Party, running for the first time in the super seat race, noted the significance of matching up with fellow party members running in other constituencies.

“Last election, a lot of citizens asked us why Civic Party was not in the super seat race. I am running this time so that voters who support Civic Party can have a choice,” Chan says. “[Civic Party candidates] are usually professionals, with my experience in community work, this should be a good match.”

For candidates running in the super seat race for the first time and whose party is relatively small, campaigning is particularly difficult. Leung Yiu-chong of NWSC, who stood in the New Territories West election in the past five elections and won, learnt a hard lesson upon switching to District Council (Second) this year.

“The constituency for District Council (Second) is very large and it takes a lot of manpower and resources for campaigning,” Leung says, “which I do not have, so it is exhausting for me.”

In the upcoming election, six pan-democrat line-ups and three pro-establishment line-ups are competing for five seats. According to the pan-democrat candidates, they did initially consider coordinating their efforts, However, the lure of media exposure – the element that leads individual candidates to victory – was what caused pan-democrats’ coordination plan to fall apart.

Preliminaries controversy

In the first half of the year, that pan-democrats were planning to hold a preliminary election for the super seat race. Winners of the preliminary election would presumably have a better chance of winning in the actual election. Ideally, they would be those chose to run for the super seats. But by July, it became clear that the plan wasn’t going to happen.

Harbour Times asked the candidates why the preliminary election did not happen. Five of them gave the more or less identical answer, “Because one of us refused to coordinate. As one quit, the rest weren’t in either.”

Polite to a fault, none of the candidates would name the defector – except the rebel faction leader. Harbour Times interviewed Kwan Wing-yip of Neo Democrats and he admitted that he was against the preliminary election, and so were all other members in his line-up. He also pointed out that the arrangement is unfair to first-time candidates.

“If we are holding a poll at such early stage, it is all about exposure, not real popularity,” Kwan explains. “In which case we are hardly comparable to experienced LegCo members who had been in that position for more than 20 years. […] We [Neo Democrats] as a new party cannot compare with older parties like ADPL.”

Kwan also felt that if the pan-democrats decide who to run in the super seat race at an early stage, the younger generation will not have an opportunity to make an effort.

“If you don’t even let [newbies] try, how are they going to take over?” he asks. “There are certain things in an election that you do not learn how to do unless you have been the lead of a line-up. For example, at interviews and forums, members who are second or further down in the line-up do not get to speak. [With] the experience of putting together an electoral campaign [this year], at least I have been there, I will gain some popularity, I know what to do next time.”

New parties are not as affluent as old traditional parties. The campaigning costs for the preliminary election is no small amount for them.

“Some parties say, ‘we have reserved several million dollars for the preliminary election.’ Such as the Democratic Party,” Kwan remarks. “But for us [Neo Democrats], our campaigning budget is less than several million. If I have the money, I would rather spend it on real work rather than the preliminary election.”

Kwan also asserts that although Neo Democrats are the only party which openly rejected the preliminary election, other pan-democrat parties were not very enthusiastic about it either.

“Once we indicated that we were not participating, other parties took advantage of the situation and shut down the conversation, for example the Democratic Party,” Kwan recalls. “Their concept is that they were elected to two super seats last time, and so they [should stand] this time. […] Apparently they do not want to keep the conversation going anymore. Of course we are unhappy about that.”

Meanwhile, Leung Yiu-chong notes that although he initially supported setting up a coordination plan, he understands the concerns of first-time candidates.

“I can understand them. […] As district councilors, they do not enjoy as much exposure. The preliminary election will not play to their advantage,” he explains. “They say, ‘Let’s do that later,’ but when will that be? Preliminary election involves almost as much campaigning, we cannot tell one another to give up all the efforts [after the preliminary election], midway through the [actual] election season. Hence the idea of a preliminary election is not ideal.”

Kwan Wing-yip openly rejected the preliminary election.

Rising stars

From resentment towards pan-democrats’ centralised leadership of the Umbrella Movement, to an increasingly radical agenda contrary to pan-democrats’ traditionally moderate platform, young politicos are becoming ever more critical of the old democrats. Criticism is fueled by youngsters’ disappointment in the older generation’s reluctance to surrender their power.

In the pan-democratic camp, 33-year-old Roy Kwong of Democratic Party falls into the ‘young’ category. He agrees that it is time for young pan-democrats to take over. This year, he is joining the super seat race.

“I come with a mission,” he reasons. “If we fail to address this problem [of not having new faces in the election], it will be difficult for us to convince 60% of the electorate to continue voting for us.”

He concedes that his party, the Democratic Party, is especially conservative when it comes to letting younger ones to take over. This year, rising stars in the party finally get a chance to stand in the election.

“In the past, the Democratic Party’s oligarchic culture was much criticised,” he says. “We have to let voters and our older members know that the younger pols are ready. Give us an opportunity, we will do well. […] The pan-democrats are trying hard to convince the electorate that we are transitioning.”

Roy Kwong’s account justifies why he is running, but this does not explain why Democratic Party’s rising star and heavyweights have to run separately in two line-ups. James To, who is seeking re-election, tells Harbour Times that it is insurance.

“Albert Ho and Frederick Fung cannot run, leaving only me. It is all about exposure in the super seat race. They think I am the best fit,” To explains. “Polls suggest [pan-democrat candidates] are at great risk of losing. We cannot surrender all seats, so experienced candidates like me have to hang on.”

Roy Kwong, “If we fail to address this problem [of not having new faces in the election], it will be difficult for us to convince 60% of the electorate to continue voting for us.”

NWSC’s Leung Yiu-chong, now over 60 years old, switched from the geographical races to District Council (Second), so that the NWSC’s rising star Ivan Wong Yun-tat (黃潤達) can run in New Territories West.

“I hope after I had retired from geographical constituencies, voters who used to support me will vote for fellow pan-democrats,” he explains. “We [NWSC] are sending new faces as well. If I stay in New Territories West, their chances will be low; if I switch to District Council (Second), they might try.”

NWSC’s question of transitioning is much more difficult than Democratic Party’s. Leung is not optimistic about Ivan Wong’s campaign, “His chance is not that high.” He is still the only hope to secure NWSC’s only LegCo seat.

“If my electoral results are not turning out as good as expected, then NWSC is ‘over’. This is our biggest concern,” Leung admits he is under tremendous pressure. “All our offices are supported by LegCo resources. If I cannot secure my LegCo seat, these will be all gone.”

If Leung fails in the super seat race, then the question for NWSC’s rising stars will not be as simple as when to take over – but whether NWSC will be able to sustain itself without resources from LegCo.

Leung Yiu-chong, “All our offices are supported by LegCo resources. If I cannot secure my LegCo seat, these will be all gone.”

In the hands of the voters

By now it is clear that the pan-democrats will not be able to come up with a coordination plan for the District Council (Second) election. ADPL, one of the first parties to propose coordination, has given up the idea.

“Of course it would be best if we can coordinate, but if that is not working out and we do not have an objective mechanism to decide who to run, as democrats we should not bar anyone from running,” Kalvin Ho says.

After all, for the pan-democrats, their biggest rival is the pro-establishment, not among themselves. He believes in voters, “It is hard to fight the pro-establishment, but it is not that we do not have any chance. When all Hongkongers realise we have to overthrow this autocratic government, we will be able to do it.”

 

Kalvin Ho, “Of course it would be best if we can coordinate, but if that is not working out and we do not have an objective mechanism to decide who to run, as democrats we should not bar anyone from running.”