LegCo 2016 Debrief: Fractions of factions

Timothy Peirson-Smith takes a look at the new LegCo and what the results mean for governance, the next President, the  CE elections and business.


Timothy J Peirson-Smith gives his take on the polls.

 

Localist Candidates

From the overall vote gain, localist and pro-self-determination parties proved our comments in Harbour Times correct, that they are not simply a political quirk. It will be interesting if they can develop their localism doctrine to a wider political and social perspective once in Legislative Council.

Executive Counsel previously warned that a split of anti-Beijing vote between Localist and PanDemocrats could result in more Pro-Beijing seats being won. The prediction has been partially realised. The camp broke the steady vote ratio of 6:4 between Pan-Democrats and Pro-Beijing, respectively. However, in most cases Pan-Democrats still won by a small margin, keeping the Pan-Democrats one-third blocking minority in the Council intact.

 

Never Trust the Polls

As expected there was a significant discrepancy between the polls and the final result. We would attribute this to the phenomenon where votes were strategically moved from popular candidates to those with similar stances to ensure they met the minimum rate to be elected.

For instance, Tanya Chan of Civic Party led the polls from the beginning, but she ended up being the candidate elected with the lowest number of votes.

 

Social Media: The Kingmaker

The election was a crucial test for younger candidates to convert their online support into votes at the polls. We observed that candidates with sizeable online platforms can mobilise as many votes as other big parties, localists/Self Determination parties taking 19% of vote, showing online political momentum can overcome a shortage of material resources.

Another noteworthy feature was the widespread use of Facebook Live campaigning. It was widely adopted as an effective alternative to televised or broadcasted debate, which gives only few minutes of airtime to each candidate. But the importance of conventional channels must not be underestimated as it was still a major source of information for elderly voters.

 

Great Ground Games

It is not a surprise that practically all the Pro-Beijing parties demonstrated excellent ground games in all constituencies, except the Liberal Party. As we told Harbour Times, fierce competition might impede Pan-Democrats from effectively securing their seats. Although the Pan-Democrats withdrew six lists one day before election with calls to strategically vote for other stronger Pan-Democrats, it was proven to be too late to save small Pan-Democratic parties. Labour lost 3 out of 4 seats; ADPL and Neo-Democrats each lost their single seats; People Power lost 1 – all tough and painful lessons.

 

Intergenerational Issues

Traditional parties all securely passed the torch to their young party talents, including Civic Party, Democratic Party and DAB. There are also six young legislators from neither of the two mainstream political spectrums. The ‘rule book’ of the Council will be rewritten – some traditions might be forgotten, while some practices might be normalised.

 

CE Election

The Chief Executive election will be held on 26 March 2017. Chief Executive CY Leung told the press on 6th September that “It is obvious that candidates opposing my second term failed” although he said he had no re-election plan at the moment. But the significant public endorsement for localists, demanding greater autonomy and even to explore possibilities of independence, may well harm any re-election hopes.

 

What’s Next?

Jasper Tsang will soon retire as President of the Legislative Council. The role will be fiercely fought for. Andrew Leung of BPA (Industrial (First) Constituency) is leading the Legislative Council Presidential race. However, there might be resistance from Pan-Democrats. The Democratic Party warned that the Pro-Beijing camp must cooperate with Pan-Democrats in this matter, or else it will be seen as “a declaration of war for the whole four-year term”. Meanwhile James To of the Democratic Party recommended Pro Beijing independent legislator Paul Tse (Kowloon East Constituency), with support from Liberal Party. However, in order not to compromise the Pro-Beijing camp’s relatively weak voting advantage within geographical constituency seats, it is likely that they will recommend to Pan-Democrats a legislator from functional constituencies to be the next Legislative Council president.

 

Conclusions

There was surprise defeat of some long-serving opposition leaders, but it would be too optimistic to suggest a smoother governance in the future. With inexperienced and more radical characters in the new term of the Legislative Council, it seems that the stagnant and adversarial nature of the Council, which serves neither the public nor the business community, will endure in the foreseeable future. No matter who takes the Chief Executive office in 2017, government will need to invest more effort to lobby the Council to support its agenda in the face of a stronger and more fragmented opposition. It will be crucial to encourage a certain degree of cooperation between Pan-Democrats and Pro-Beijing parties as the localists shall spare the former from keeping the check-and-balance all the time. The business community should keep a keen eye on how far the tension between administration and legislature will extend, as this will likely determine Beijing’s policy toward Hong Kong, especially for its Post-2047 arrangements, and the government’s capacity in delivering a prosperous future.

 

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Contributing Authors

Timothy J Peirson-Smith

Timothy Peirson-Smith is the founder of Executive Counsel and an astute observer of the Hong Kong political scene and chairman of the Business Policy Unit of The British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

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