It takes 9 months to create new human life – 8 if you rush things a little. In this case, it was enough to give birth to a new political life. After moving to South Horizons West (SHW) District, Judy Chan Ka-pui (陳家珮, New People’s Party) for only 8 months, she delivered her first electoral win, becoming a District Councilor.
Andrew Fung Wai-kwong (馮煒光), ex-Democratic Party member, shocked his democratic allies by joining the Chief Executive’s team as Information Co-ordinator in October last year. Political parties were caught flat-footed as they scrambled to find candidates to run in the unexpected by-election. One party, however, was a little more sure-footed than the others.
Ms. Chan has stuck to her story that she coincidentally moved out of her parents’ home into that specific district right when Andrew Fung resigned, stretching credulity.
The NPP only lost this district by 12 votes in the 2011 election. As one of the better heeled parties, they have maintained an office here for at least six years deep in what has been DP territory since 2007. A vote that close had to be contested. Ms. Chan has stuck to her story that she coincidentally moved out of her parents’ home into that specific district right when Andrew Fung resigned, stretching credulity. Also coincidentally, as in 2011, no other pro-establishment parties ran in the district. The DAB’s veteran district councillor and the party’s Vice President Thomas Pang (彭長緯) told HT the district wasn’t one they felt they could viably contest “SHW is a middle class district which is difficult for DAB to enter and it is not a key strategic area to DAB either”. The BPA, with a growing District Councilor network, and the Liberal Party were notable in their absence from a mid-to high-income professional populated district.
“SHW is a middle class district which is difficult for DAB to enter and it is not a key strategic area to DAB either.”
The democratic forces were more explicit about how they determine who will run where, in order to avoid vote splitting in the face of a united pro-establishment force. They have a formula that awards points based on factors like party incumbency and candidate incumbency. There is an organisation, Power of Democracy, to coordinate and finalise who would run. Based on Andrew Fung’s vote total in 2011 (47.4%), the Democratic Party had first right of refusal. In other words, it was theirs to lose.
Other parties were not anxious to enter the fray. Audrey Eu (余若薇), speaking to HT, emphasised Civic Party’s commitment to sticking to the deal, preserving “unity within pan-democrats” to honour the co-ordination system. Plus, running can be a drain on people and resources: “there are more districts than candidates.” The Democratic Party’s choice of candidate may have reflected that. Rather than a unencumbered up-and-coming candidate, they went with one loaded with responsibilities keeping them away from the district.
People Power is not a party to the democratic camp agreement. Erica Yuen (袁彌明) sat down with Calvin Lam and explained her thinking. They were keen to contest the seat and she submitted her papers before Sin Chung-kai (單仲偕). She explained that she would have stood aside for candidates that advocated public nomination for the CE elections and didn’t do a deal with the Liaison Office in 2010 on constitutional reform. The Democratic Party, along with Frederick Fung (馮檢基) of the ADPL are in the People Party’s perennial crosshairs. Their published pamphlets portray the Democratic Party LegCo members in a decidedly un-family friendly format. HT was told the PP approached the DP through a third party encouraging them to stand aside, to no avail. She stated explicitly that if the pan-democrats had sent other candidates, such as Audrey Eu and Tanya Chan (陳淑莊), she would not have run.
Hitting the streets
That being said, she did. The Party Chair has as of yet to be elected anywhere and needs to put that notch in her belt. She has previously stated her intention to moderate the image, if not the views, of the party and success in an area like South Horizons West would prove, and help that goal.
Micro issues: I fixed an escalator!
She has a background in the South Side of the Island (boarding school at St. Stephen’s) that was heavily played up in their extremely high quality literature that took direct aim at the Democratic Party (“ossified, complacent”) and ignored the New People’s Party. It sported high production values, impeccable English, sensible moderate issue stances and covered broad range of issue coverage from micro- (I fixed an escalator!) to macro (issues related to constitutional reform). It may call into question keeping within electoral spending boundaries, but goes a long way to explaining electoral success. She beat the streets and raised their vote tally from 182 to 1083 in 2014.
Judy Chan was also seen walking the streets of South Horizon to get out and meet the people. Many people seemed to respond well. DAB’s Thomas Pang told HT’s Calvin Lam that the best campaign strategy is to be practical and some real work done to improve the district. Having a party background may help but not much. Devotion to serve the community and caring for the residents will bear more fruit. Compact districts like South Horizons West are composed of just a few blocks. Having your rep full time in the area helps.
The DP has taken the loss in stride and learned lessons.
The Democratic Party, by contrast, seemed to struggle to find a candidate. Sin Chung-kai has tremendous name recognition in Hong Kong – and the titles and responsibilities to match it. People on the ground report he was visibly less notable in campaigning and perceived to be busy elsewhere as a full time LegCo member with a myriad of other roles with the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Financial Reporting Council, and the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Rather than a sprightly full time campaigner, it seemed the hope was the name and party brand could carry the day. It did not. All three of the same parties contested the 2011 election. The DP vote share fell from 47.4% in 2011 to 22.9% in 2014.
Some have pointed to Andrew Fung’s ‘betrayal’ and Albert Ho’s (何俊仁) ‘iPadgate’ as possible factors at play. Total vote tallies are rarely the result of one factor and many played a role here. The question is what does it mean for the future.
In only one year, they will be back to the polls. Of course, the incumbent, the ink still wet on her lease, will stand again – now with name recognition and more community contact to her name. In addition, she will have the logistical support of the longstanding NPP office in the area.
If the other pro-establishment camps haven’t run before, they are unlikely to do so again, barring a CY Leung-other CE candidate split developing in the next year: unlikely (see Chris Yeung, Johnny Lau, this issue).
However, The Democratic Party, under the pan-democrat formula, will have lost the automatic right to fly the flag for their camp. The DP has taken the loss in stride and learned lessons. Sin Chung-kai and DP’s Southern District Councilor Chai Man-hon (柴文瀚) conclude one of the biggest factors contributing to their failure is Sin’s LegCo member background. Chai says past experience suggested that LegCo members are not fit to run in district elections as they are too busy and electorates perceive LegCo members may have a diluted voice with which to speak on behalf of the residents. Sin makes it clear that he will not run in a DC election again but to focus solely on LegCo work. Choosing a suitable candidate to run in the middle class district as South Horizons West is difficult, according to Sin. In the meantime, Chai is drafting a report to DP’s caucus for campaign recommendations.
Ms. Yuen would not confirm if she will run again. She probably doesn’t know yet. On one hand, Ms Yuen can argue she was fairly successful and has made progress in moderating the party image. That may be more difficult during a Hong Kong wide DC election when her less palatable (to moderate SHW voters) colleagues are out flying the People Power flag. But her name recognition in SHW will be higher and she still has the time and freedom to run full time, unlike the Civic Party elders she claims she would make way for. However, it seems older LegCo members may not be the winning formula, as noted above.
If she does stand down in SHW, she could try for the ‘in-the-district’ advantage Judy Chan had by running in the district encompassing her Happy Valley home.
There are many decisions to be made between now and then. It is unlikely that the constitutional reform questions for LegCo and CE elections, which will have DC implications, will be resolved. No one is holding their breath for a DP/PP truce. While the DP may gracefully surrender SHW to a pan-democratic colleague, they will no doubt clash with the People Power again. A year after that, the drama will be replayed again at the LegCo level. Politicos will have post mortems galore to conduct for the next 24 months and beyond.