Skip to main content

Winners and Losers in the New Territories East By-election 新界東補選的贏家與輸家

After weeks of intense political campaigns and a vicious war of words on social media, the dust has finally settled on who will fill the Legislative Council seat vacated by former Civic Party senior Ronny Tong. 

In the end, Alvin Yeung beat out six other candidates in the New Terrorities East by-election last Sunday, winning by a thin margin, and became the latest poster boy for the pan-dems. The 35-year-old barrister could heave a sigh of relief for not letting down his party elders. His win means the tie-breaking seat in the geographic constituencies, the directly elected half of Legco, is now safe and the pan-dems can hold on to their house majority and veto power. All’s well that ends well.

Or so it seems. 

While the by-election is a winner-takes-all proposition, the politics behind it isn’t. The time to take stock of the winners and losers is now.

To the victor belongs the spoils

Localist groups

Hong Kong Indigenous’ Edward Leung might have lost his Legco bid, but he went home with something else: bragging rights. The 66,000 votes he mopped up aren’t exactly chum change; they are enough to silence the skeptics and prove to fan boys that localism is more than a fringe voice that appeals only to a “very small minority” of voters. 

Leung’s well-organized campaign – replete with color-matching hoodies, banners and major endorsements from opinion leaders – succeeded in galvanizing the young and the restless. The 24-year-old philosophy student addressed a range of burning issues that many of his opponents would rather not talk about: the perceived Sinofication of Hong Kong, eroding freedom of expression and the growing desire among the youth for self-governance.

Emboldened by his strong showing in the by-election, Leung declared that local politics is now a “tripartite division,” a reference to the Three Kingdoms Dynasty during which three feudal lords carved up Imperial China into regional states. The metaphor doubles as a declaration of war to both the pro-Beijing camp and the pan-dems: the by-election is only a dress rehearsal for the localists, before they return in full throttle in the September general election when all 35 geographic constituency seats will be up for grabs. 

And they don’t even need to win big – Leung and his supporters don’t give a hoot to pan-dem concerns such as securing a house majority and veto power. A single seat is all it takes for these proverbial skunks-at-the-garden-party to make a stink on the Legco floor. If C.Y. Leung finds Long Hair’s theatrics offensive, then he had better start growing thicker skin to face off an Edward Leung in the house.

Leung (middle) and his supporters

Pan-dems

If the localists have come out on top, then the pan-dems have gone down in flames. 

Alvin Yeung’s difficult campaign and narrow win have exposed the many cracks within the opposition. There is a growing sentiment among voters, especially the so-called “post-90s” (people born after 1990), that traditional pan-dem parties are out of touch and care more about their own political existence than the best interests of their constituents. Many believe that Yeung would have done much better at the polls had he run as an independent or at least not been constantly chaperoned by a posse of annoying pan-dem old-timers on the campaign trail. To young voters, that’s about as cool as bringing your mother to the school prom.

In an television interview shortly after the by-election, Edward Leung categorically ruled out the possibility of any form of coordination between Hong Kong Indigenous and the pan-dems in the general election, which, unlike the first-past-the-post by-election, operates under a different voting system: proportional representation. To put simply, if, say, 30% of the electorate supports a particular political party, then roughly 30% of the Legco seats will be won by – or “apportioned to” – that party. That means while the pan-dems were able to narrowly hold on to that one seat last Sunday, they stand to lose many more this September as a result of a vote leak to the localists.

Pan-dems struggling to stay relevant

Pro-Beijing camp

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) ran a clumsy campaign. As a candidate, Holden Chow lacked charisma and his debate performances, including a poorly executed cry scene on television, was at times hard to watch. 

DAB also needs to rethink their ground strategy going forward. As much as Edward Leung siphoned off votes from Alvin Yeung, the other five pro-establishment and quasi-independent candidates did exactly the same to Chow. With the Liaison Office (the de facto Chinese consulate in Hong Kong) breathing down their necks, one would expect the “red team” to put out a better coordinated campaign than the one we saw.

Looking ahead, the pro-Beijing camp is not expected to gain much from the Three Kingdoms scenario either. While the infighting within the opposition may shift a seat or two from the traditional pan-dems to the localists in the general election, the vote split will not strengthen parties like DAB under a proportional representation system. In other words, robbing Peter to pay Paul will hardly benefit Mary. What’s more, Hong Kong Indigenous and other localist groups hold the most sway with the youth vote comprising primarily first time voters. The emergence of a new, progressive and highly energized electorate will only hurt the establishment.

Chow's poor acting skill might have cost him the election

Magnet Man

In an episode that is best described as comic relief, a man who wasn’t even part of the race has ended up in the political doghouse. Starring in this sideshow was 21-year-old Oscar Lai, best known for his role as Scholarism’s spokesman and Joshua Wong’s faithful sidekick. During Alvin Yeung’s campaign, Lai stalked the candidate whenever he went and photo-bombed him and his Civic Party colleagues on numerous occasions. One photograph showed a desperate Lai standing on his toes and craning his neck just to get in the frame. 

Netizens took notice and mocked the shameless political climber with the nickname “Magnet Man” – the Cantonese phrase for attention seekers who are drawn to the camera lens like moths to a flame, or in less poetic terms, paper clips to a magnet. It is believed that Lai has set his sight on the September election (unlike 19-year-old Joshua Wong, he is old enough to run) and is trying his hardest to sidle up to the pan-dems, including a high profile announcement days before the by-election that he would sever his ties with Scholarism and throw his support behind his new best friend, Yeung. Magnet Man’s not-so-subtle political agenda exposed, the question is whether he can recover in time before the next campaign season begins.

Lai (middle, front) blocking Yeung who was standing behind him

The abstainers

Despite all the drama, comedy and media hoopla, the turnout of the by-election was just over 46%, lower than that of the district elections three months ago. Excusing those who were out of town or infirm, there is really no reason why anyone could spend hours queueing up for a Mark Six lottery ticket but not stop by the voting booth in their own neighborhood on a Sunday to discharge their civic responsibility. 

When one in two adults voluntarily gives up his or her most fundamental right as a citizen – the kind of right that tens of thousands slept on the streets for more than 70 days in the fall of 2014 fighting for – the whole city loses. 
___________________________

This article was published in the South China Morning Post under the title "Who were the winners and losers in the New Territories East by-election?"

As published in the South China Morning Post

Popular Posts

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…

About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK).

Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Revie…

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

The Hundredth Post 第一百篇

This month marks the third birthday of my blog As I See It, a social commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in Hong Kong. The occasion coincides with the 100th article I have written under the banner. Having reached a personal milestone, I decided to take the opportunity to reflect on my still-young writing career and wallow in, dare we say, self-congratulatory indulgence.

It all started in November 2008 on the heels of the last U.S. presidential election. I was getting ready to create a personal website as a platform to consolidate my interests and pursuits. To do that I needed content. That’s how my blog – or my “online op-ed column” as I prefer to call it – came into being. 
Before I knew it, I was banging it out in front of my iMac every night, going on and off the tangent and in and out of my stream of consciousness about the odd things I experienced in the city, the endless parade of pink elephants I saw everyday that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at. Though singi…

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Upcoming events and speaking engagements in 2018


Commencement of spring semester at Faculty of Law of University of Hong Kong, LLM program
Course: International Securities Law
Venue: Centennial Campus, Pokfulam
Dates: 26 January - 27 April

Book launch of HK24 (2017 anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle)
Venue: Bookazine, Prince's Building
Date: 13 February
Time: 6:30 - 8:30pm


Speaker for Enrich HK's "Ask the Experts" series
Topic: TBD
Date: February

Talk at Kellett School
Topic: "Faith"
Venue: Wah Fu, Pokfulam
Date: February
Time: TBD

Moderator at screening of documentary "The Helper"
Venue: BNP Paribas, Two IFC
Date: 28 February
Time: 11:30am - 2:30pm

Speaker at Wimler Foundation legal workshop
Topic: "Understanding Hong Kong Culture"
Venue: Philippine Consulate General, Admiralty
Date: 18 March
Time: TBD

Book launch of 《香港二十: 反思回歸廿載》, Chinese translation of PEN Hong Kong anthology Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections on a Borrowed Place
Venue: TBD
Da…

The Joshua I Know 我認識的之鋒

When I shook his hand for the first time, I thought he was the strangest seventeen-year-old I’d ever met.
It was 2014, and considering how much Hong Kong has changed in the last three year, it felt like a lifetime ago.
Joshua sat across from me at a table in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, with his iPhone in one hand and an iPad in the other. I ordered him a lemon iced tea with extra syrup.
He was eager to begin our conversation, not because he was excited about being interviewed for my article, but because he wanted to get it over with and get on with the rest of his jam-packed day.
During our 45-minute chat, he spoke in rapid-fire Cantonese, blinking every few seconds in the way robots are programmed to blink like humans. He was quick, precise and focused.

He was also curt.
When I asked him if he had a Twitter account, he snapped, “Nobody uses Twitter in Hong Kong. Next question.”
I wasn’t the least offended by his bluntness—I chalked it up to gumption and precocity. For a te…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

When Free Speech Isn't Free 當言論不再自由

The school year had barely begun when two incidents—both testing the limits of free speech on campus—unfolded at Chinese University and Education University and sent management scrambling for a response.
On Monday, at least three large banners bearing the words “Hong Kong independence” were spotted in various locations at Chinese University, including one that draped across the famous “Beacon” sculpture outside the school’s main library. Within hours, the banners were removed by the school authorities.
A few days later, a sign “congratulating” Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin (蔡若蓮) on her son’s recent suicide appeared on Education University’s Democracy Wall, a public bulletin board for students to express opinions and exchange views. Likewise, the sign was taken down shortly thereafter.


That could have been the end of the controversies had university management not succumbed to the temptation to say a few choice words of their own. In the end, it was the reaction from the schoo…

Hunger Game 飢餓遊戲

Every Chinese New Year I buy myself a tangerine tree for good luck. Ripe fruits fallen to the ground will mould and turn white and green within 36 hours.
Every Thanksgiving I roast a turkey big enough to feed twelve. Leftovers taste better the next day but will spoil by the week’s end even when kept in the fridge.


The unifying theme of these two unrelated household anecdotes is that unprocessed food does not last. Spoilage is part of nature’s metabolism. So how is it possible that the Valencia oranges on my kitchen counter look exactly the same as they did five weeks ago at the store, or that the expiration date stamped on a can of luncheon meat reads “March 2018”? I can’t help but wonder what really is in our food.
Our appetite for things that taste better, look nicer, last longer and cost less, from breakfast cereal to meat products and fresh produce, is insatiable. Consumer demand has spurred the growing use of pesticides, flavorings, colorings and preservatives in the food indu…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…