Election analysis: Localist voter behaviour in New Territories West

Hong Kong’s voting system tends to produce fragmented electoral results. Small parties win big, while large parties win little. New Territories West, the largest constituency in Hong Kong, might be the crowning-place for localists.


New Territories West is Hong Kong’s biggest battleground. It will leave political neophytes and old-times alike dead on the battlefield. Analysis shows, however, that it may be the localists on the path to LegCo along with pro-establishment heavyweights, setting the scene for a combative five years.

How to lose an election with a majority

In the last election, results of the pan-democratic camp were disastrous because of Civic Party’s misjudgment. The table below shows the number of seats per vote at different areas of the political spectrum, with special focus on the DAB and Civic Party.  

Year (Constituency) Pro-Establishment (excluding DAB) Moderate Pro-establishment Moderate Pan-Dem (excluding Civic Party) Radical Pan-Dem Party Specific DAB Civic Party
2008 NTW 42,676 51,329 32,182 46,018
2012 NTW 39,968 54,575 71,878 56,531 37,943 72,185

The list system makes it much harder for a party to get a second member of their list elected than it would be if that person ran on a separate ticket and voters could somehow efficiently split their votes between the lists. The ‘somehow’ is the tricky part.

The DAB’s vote per seat dropped from 46,018 to 37,943 (from 2008 to 2012), when they sensibly split into three individual teams instead placing all candidates on the same ticket.

The Civic Party’s strategy in 2012 New Territories West was an echo of DAB’s strategy in 2008, when the DAB fielded two candidates, eventual winners, on the same ticket. This brought moderate Pan-Dem’s votes per seat up from 51329 to 71878 in 2012.  Despite having 44% of the popular votes, the pro-Establishment camp won 55% of the seats.  

Efficiency in voting is the key. Having too many people voting for a single ticket suggests you may have missed a chance to have another member elected by ‘wasting’ excess votes on your ticket.

The biggest lesson learned from the last two elections is that one should not aim for two seats on the same ticket, as the Largest Remainder Method in Hong Kong’s proportional representation voting system strongly discriminates against it.

The other extreme- surge in the number of contesting teams

While there was still some coordination within pan-Dems in the 2012 election, this year is absolute chaos.  No political party within the pan-Dem camps is coordinating with any other, and there is a surge in the number of individual teams.  

The New Territories West constituency in this election has 20 teams jostling for 9 seats, and the pro-Establishment’s strategy is extremely clear. The table below is a rough projection of final share of votes in 2016, based on 2012 election results and 2015 District Council elections and 2016 NTE by-elections.  

Year Pro-Establishment Moderate Pro-establishment Moderate Pan-Dem Radical Pan-Dem
2016 Projection (based on 2016 NTE by-election) 30% 15% 38% 17%
Candidates supported by major parties 3 2 5 4

Of the 8 pro-establishment teams, arguable only 5 (as per above) are supported by major parties and are consistently score well in poll ratings. Of these 5 candidates, 4 are set to be safe bets to secure a seat.  The fifth candidate is there to steal a seat if Democrats have too much wastage in their votes.

The four secure seats are the two DAB candidates Chan Han-pan (陳恒鑌) and Leung Che-cheung (梁志祥), the FTU candidate Alice Mak Mei-kuen (麥美娟) and the NPP candidate Michael Tien Puk-sun (田北辰).  Their only worry is that Michael Tien, who has soared in popularity since the start of polls.  This means that it would be somewhat difficult to convince some of his voters to vote for the relatively less-known fifth candidate – Junius Ho Kwan-yiu (何君堯), an independent candidate and former president of the Hong Kong Law Society.  

New Territories West is the largest constituency in Hong Kong, covering 46% of Hong Kong’s administrative area with over 1 million registered voters.  

What can go wrong for Democrats?

From the 2012 elections and the 2015 District Council elections, we know that the total vote for the pan-dems had an approximate 70-30 split between their moderates and radicals in New Territories West.  This means that, realistically, pan-dems should be aiming for 5 seats, and it will be split between either 3 moderates and 2 radicals, or 4 moderates and 1 radical.  

From the polls and projections based on each party’s local presence, it looks like that Lee Chuek-yan (李卓人), the iconic leader of the Hong Kong Tiananmen square movement; Dr Kwok Ka-ki (郭家麒) of the Civic Party and Democratic Party’s Andrew Wan Siu-kin (尹兆堅) will be elected, at the expense of seasoned politician Frederick Fung Kin-kee (馮檢基) of ADPL.  From the radical camp, Dr Cheng Chung-tai (鄭松泰) of Civic Passion is likely to be elected, and Kenny Wong Chun-kit (黃俊傑) of Youngspiration will clinch the 9th seat – a first for the localists.  

It is a plausible that Wong Ho Ming of the LSD could take a sufficient share of votes to knock the Youngspiration candidate out.  In this scenario, the pro-establishment Junius Ho might get elected.  

“From the radical camp, Dr Cheng Chung-tai of Civic Passion is likely to be elected, and Kenny Wong of Youngspiration will clinch the 9th seat – a first for the localists.  

Express your preference!

The proportional representation system is advantageous for smaller parties, and this is one of the reasons why it is relatively easy for radicals to enter the Legislative Council.  One would argue that this is good for democracy in Hong Kong, as it guarantees minority voices are heard in the legislative chambers.  However, there are clear disadvantages.

The Largest Remainder Method makes the voter’s mandate ambiguous.  In a large constituency like NTW with 20 tickets, voters do not usually just support a single candidate.  As a result, we observe that many voters would change their minds at the last minute (explained in the previous article) to maximize their vote’s utility.  This suggests that the voters’ maximum utility is not realised under this system.  Perhaps a multi-ticket transferable vote system might be a better option to capture each voter’s actual preference.  

Secondly, it makes voting out certain candidates relatively difficult.  One of the virtues in a democracy is that those in office can be voted out, but the proportional representation system means that the threshold to be elected is very low.  It is therefore harder to hold certain candidates accountable if they are sponsored by a well-established party.

Ultimately, reform is unlikely any time in the future as the pro-Establishment candidates are structurally dominant in functional constituencies, preventing change through their ability to protect their position through veto.


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LARGEST REMAINDER METHOD:  

The largest remainder method was adopted in Hong Kong since the 1998 LegCo election. Voters each vote for a party lineup which its number of members does not exceed the number of seats in the constituency. There is a quota of votes for candidates to be elected, which is generated by dividing the number of votes by the number of seats in the constituency. For example if 600,000 vote in the Hong Kong Island constituency, which takes up six seats, the quota will be 600,000÷6=100,000. A lineup will be apportioned one seat for every 100,000 votes. After the quota has been removed from lineups that received more votes than the quota, the remaining seats will be allocated to the lineups with the largest remainders.

 

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Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong’s daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society’s magazine – PASSTIMES.
afharbourtimes
afharbourtimes the author

Alex Fok is a Harbour Times journalist monitoring Hong Kong's daily political scene and diplomatic updates. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Economics, Politics and International Studies from University of Warwick and his master's degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is a former committee member of the Warwick-based Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society (WHKPASS) and was the chief editor of the society's magazine - PASSTIMES.