Pro-establishment forces take seat in by-election – and geographic majority

The votes are in! Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan claimed the day to claim victory in the by-election for a LegCo seat representing the West Kowloon district. The pro-establishment candidate win means that the pan-democratic camp loses its veto power in the geographical group in the LegCo – held since the handover in 1997.

In a head-to-head battle, the two leading candidates, Ms Chan Hoi-yan endorsed by the pro-establishment camp and Mr Lee Cheuk-yan by the pan-democratic parties, secured 106,457 and 93,047 votes respectively.

Having 49.5 percent of the 216,000 voters on her side, Ms Chan claimed the seat amid the usual controversies surrounding the election – but in an election that had its origins in a new controversy.

Despite fierce campaigning efforts on the voting day, the turnout rate was 44.4 percent – a particularly inauspicious number – similar to that of the by-election this past March.

The pro-Beijing Mr Ng Dick-hay, former member of local party People Power Ms Judy Tzeng Li-wen, and veteran pro-democracy politician Mr Frederick Fung Kin-kee were also-rans on the day.

Shaky landscape

With Ms Chan claiming the seat today, the pro-establishment camp can further tighten its grip on the LegCo.

In the geographical group, any camp with 18 out of 35 seats has the veto power. The pro-establishment camp has the power now after Ms Chan brings the number to 18 for them – a major setback for the pan-democratic camp.

This veto power was taken away from the pro-democratic camp, which won 19 seats in the 2016 election, but later lost 6 seats in the oath-taking controversy in the same year.

Ms Lau Siu-lai, who represents the self-determination camp that advocates Hong Kong residents deciding their own fate, was disqualified to be a LegCo member due to her slow speech in the oath taking ceremony.

The disqualification triggered the by-election to fill her seat on Sunday. Together with Ms Lau, five other pro-democratic members also lost their seats in the controversy.

Critics have said the loss of her seat is all part of Beijing’s effort to further erode Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and autonomy, in this case by eliminating opposition in the Legislative Council.

With the shift in veto power, critics fear that LegCo will become a rubber-stamp body. The pro-establishment camp also holds sway in the functional group, claiming 23 seats out of 30. This is by design and has been the case since the handover in 1997.

But to pass major bills, 47 votes are needed. In the 70-member legislative body, 43 are pro-establishment and 26 are non-establishment.

Victory amid controversies

Despite her claim as an independent candidate, local media reports that Ms Chan’s victory had help from the pro-Beijing camp.

On the voting day, pro-Beijing local paper Tai Kung Pao handed out free copies with her policies printed on the frontpage in the guise of a news article.

Volunteers from her campaign were also seen taking the elderly to the polling stations with hints to remind them to vote for Ms Chan, according to local reports.

“She is a good mediator. She has experience in policymaking in the government,” Mr Tang Ka-piu, member of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, told Harbour Times.

He cited Ms Chan’s effort in fighting for dental care for the elderly, stressing her role in improving people’s livelihood instead of her political stance.

At a recent event, Ms Chan said she would not interview the convenor of the banned Hong Kong National Party to avoid providing a platform to promote Hong Kong independence.

Before running for the by-election, the political newcomer was a journalist and then a political assistant to Secretary for Food and Health, Ko Wing-man.

A few blocks away, a volunteer of Mr Lee’s side shouted, “this is not for Lee Cheuk-yan only but democracy,” in front of bright yellow banners. The colour has become a symbol of democracy since the citywide protest, dubbed the “umbrella movement”, in 2014.

“We support democracy,” Mr Lai Kwong-wai, district councilor of Kowloon City, told Harbour Times. Mr Lai was campaigning for Mr Lee in the rain.

Despite his effort, Mr Lee ended up 13,410 votes short to claim the victory.

The setback for the pan-democratic camp raises concern about Hong Kong’s democracy. Early this month, the U.S. released a report calling for a review on Hong Kong’s status as an independent customs entity due to deterioration of the city’s autonomy.