LegCo 2016-2020: Campaigns divide, legislators unite!

Campaigning is one thing. Actually being a legislator is another. Successful legislators will not be those who segment their voting base, but those who can put aside old grievances to build winning alliances.


The pro-democracy camp, however loosely attached, has retained its veto power in blocking government bills. Barely.

However, with localists having arrived in LegCo en masse, boundaries have been re-drawn and definitions must be updated. It isn’t just pan-dems anymore.

 

New labels and new bottles

The new entrants have forced a rethink of old groupings. Those who could reliably be expected to oppose the government at least from time to time include the old pan-dems and the new fractious faction in LegCo.

Some are dubbed localists, some independence promoters (Election Commission declarations aside) and Nathan Law Kwun-chung (羅冠聰) of Demosisto is a sort of self-determination, sort of localist, sort of pan-dem.

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick (朱凱廸; GC-New Territories West), the biggest vote-getter in LegCo may call himself a localist but others wearing the mantle would take issue. So definitions become problematic.

However, they, along with the pan-dems, can be expected to block government moves to restrict filibusters or other means of legislative obstruction.

Combining all these ornery legislators, perhaps better encompassed by the term ‘anti-establishment’, their total vote count is 30 – a gain of three, strengthening opposition to the government.

 

We say nay

So while the pan-dems may be down three, the overall obstructionist vote climbed to 30.

The mixed group described above, for the purposes of this article dubbed ‘localist’ (本土自決派), took six seats.

Practically speaking, anti-establishment allies can block government attempts at democratic and electoral reform, which requires 47 votes to pass.

Other regulations, like changes to House rules governing, for example, filibuster cloture, need to be passed by a majority of both geographical and functional seats (17 votes of 35). Again, anti-establishment forces have retained this power.

 

Pan-dems down

Fractionalisation in terms of vote distribution was seed in both pro- and anti-establishment camps, but it is the pan-democrats who took the most damage in geographical constituencies. The share of votes won by the pro-establishment camp dropped slightly from 43% in 2012 to 40%, while that of the pan-dems was down from 56% in 2012 to 36%. The rest went to the localist faction (19%) and moderates (5%) such as Ricky Wong Wai-kay (王維基), Christine Fong Kwok-shan (方國珊) and Path of Democracy.

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The new gang ain’t no gang

Six localists, namely Nathan Law, massive vote-getter Eddie Chu of Land Justice League, Lau Siu-lai (劉小麗), Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang (梁頌恆) and Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) of Youngspiration as well as Cheng Chung-tai (鄭松泰) of Civic Passion becoming the ‘third force’ in the LegCo can be encouraging for some. The extent to which they will offer a ‘third approach’ of political debates or civil resistance is, however, ambiguous at best. In this case, a certain degree of cooperation should serve both pan-democrats and localists best.

Indeed, there are many issues where the pan-dems and localists can seek closer cooperation. For example, Lau Siu-lai could collaborate with the Labour Party on social welfare policies while Eddie Chu’s anti-developer and environmentalist agenda is aligned by young Democrats Ted Hui Chi-fung (許智峯) and Roy Kwong Chun-yu (鄺俊宇).

That being said, the localists lack even the flawed, on-again/off-again unity of the pan-democrats. They have major differences among themselves and may react differently to different government policies. For example, Cheung Cheung-tai openly criticised Youngspiration and Hong Kong Indigenous disqualified Edward Yeung (who supported Youngspiration in the campaign), preferring the (eventual loser) Wong Yuk-man. The differences seemed to arise more over campaign tactics and personal issues rather than substantial policy differences.

 

Inefficiency in lists to drive specialisation

Looking again into the numbers, pan-democrats have actually got some 280,000 more votes than their pro-establishment opponents in the District Council (Second) functional constituency election. If the pan-democrats could coordinate themselves better instead of leaving the job to ‘smart voters’ who followed a flawed vote allocation initiative, the advantage in numbers could have been better utilised. Hence while fractionalisation is the general trend, it is reasonable to suggest that parties will exhibit increasing specialisation, targeting narrower niches, and then ally themselves with each other. The list voting system makes this a more effective means of turning votes into seats instead of having one big tent party.

 

Pan-dems subtle realignment

Alan Leong Kah-kit (梁家傑), former lawmaker of the Civic Party, admitted that the ‘pan-dem conference’ is already outdated and the new anti-establishment camp should seek a new model of cooperation. Leong’s party colleague, the re-elected Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang (郭榮鏗) also took the initiative to call for an “Outreach Campaign” to bring together pan-dem lawmakers from functional constituencies. With Kwok’s connection within the Professional Commons (including returning IT legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光) and Accountancy legislator Kenneth Leung (梁繼昌)), there lies a genuine opportunity for further cooperation.

There will likely be more synergies and specialisation between Democratic Party and Civic Party in particular, with the former focusing on ground-level community work while leaving the latter to reach out to professionals. Freshman Democratic Party legislators do not command the sort of authority possessed by Emily Lau Wai-hing (劉慧卿) and Albert Ho Chun-yan (何俊仁). Expect the Civic Party to take up the leading role more often.

 

One is a lonely number

But for all the tendency to fractionalisation, a party of one may be too small. The Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung (張超雄) has become the party’s sole representative in the LegCo, down from four seats won in the previous election. Other onesies include the radical pan-dem League of Social Democrats (Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄)) and People Power (Ray Chan Chi-chuen (陳智全)) and Leung Yiu-chung (梁耀忠) of Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre. All are hard left, pro-welfare legislators who could benefit from cooperation by combining resources in LegCo like the Professional Commons have done in the past. Furthermore, Leung has flirted with joining the Labour Party before (in 2010). These hard left legislators, left out in the LegCo cold, may choose to huddle together for warmth.

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Give our chairs back!

The pro-est DAB may still be the largest party in the LegCo, but it is the New People’s Party led by Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee (葉劉淑儀) that made the headlines. The NPP took almost 100,000 votes more than in the previous election, making them a real force to reckon with. Ip’s personal appeal drives votes and might translate into moral authority for driving votes in a CE election.

The DAB, meanwhile, will have to make concessions to avoid further chaos amid more radical opposition in the LegCo. The first step of a possible rapprochement with moderate pan-dems to reopen negotiations on who chairs which LegCo panels, all previously held by pro-est lawmakers after the 2014 break with tradition that saw pan-dems seize key subcommittees (PWSC and Establishment). That will likely be the focus of discussions in the coming weeks.

So while the LegCo system drives fragmentation and even atomisation at election time, a greater degree of cooperation is needed once legislators get down to work. Pooling meagre legislator budgets, combining party resources and apparatus and collaborating to advance or block government initiated legislation all demands that LegCo members give up old divisions and work together. Campaigning may divide, but the hard work of legislating will bring LegCo members together – like it or not.

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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.