The game is on: Pan-democrats go the extra mile for Election Committee

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Pan-democrats are on the road to becoming a ‘passive’ kingmaker in the upcoming Election Committee sub-sector elections.

(Photo credit: Chris Lusher)

Now with the LegCo elections – presumably – done and dusted, the spotlight is shifting to another election taking place in less than two months’ time, namely the Election Committee sub-sector Elections in 11 December, 2016. The Election Committee (EC) will determine who will be Hong Kong’s next chief executive. Pan-democrats, while asserting that they won’t assign a candidate to run for chief executive, are eager to strengthen their presence in the EC.


Where the advantage lies

The EC has four sectors, each with 300 members, and 38 sub-sectors in total to form the 1,200-strong committee (see graph 1). Candidates are elected under a plurality-at-large voting system. Under the system, each voter selects up to the number of running candidates on the ballot but cannot vote for the same candidate more than once. Candidates with the most votes will fill the positions. The usual result is that a slate of candidates backed by the largest single group will claim most of, if not all the seats.

Graph 1

In the previous Election Committees, the pro-democracy camp was most successful in the Second Sector. This is a sector for the professionals which now has 10 sub-sectors, each with 30 seats. Pan-democrats held about 200 seats in the 2011 elections, and now they want to raise that number to 250. Although a bold call, they have a reason to be confident.

The recent Legislative Council elections saw promising results for pan-democrats in traditional functional constituencies. They managed to claim the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector seat and the Medical sector seat on top of the existing six (Legal, Information Technology, Accountancy, Health Services, Education, Social Welfare). Incumbent Legal lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang (郭榮鏗), IT lawmaker Charles Mok (莫乃光) and Accountancy lawmaker Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong (梁繼昌) all retained their seats with significantly wider margins (see graph 2).

Graph 2
Graph 2

“In the past, we used to play safe not to run tickets with more candidates in sub-sectors that we have an advantage. But this time we want to be more ambitious,” says Dennis Kwok, founding member of both Civic Party and The Professional Commons. The Professional Commons formed an election coalition consisting of six pan-democrat candidates in the LegCo functional constituency elections, with all six eventually emerging as victors. It will host a platform to discuss and coordinate election efforts in mid-October.

Pan-democrats launched a successful campaign with 20 candidates to run for the EC Information Technology sub-sector election in 2011, and they are planning to win it all this December. The Accountancy, Education, High Education, Legal and Social Welfare sub-sectors are also considered traditional strongholds for them.

“We’d also like to challenge those sub-sectors that only had few or no pan-democrats running in the previous elections but either have LegCo members representing them, or saw growing support for the pro-democracy discourse in the past few years,” Kwok adds. The Health Services, Medical, Chinese Medicine, Architectural, Surveying and Planning, and Religious sub-sectors all fall under this category. “While we do not want to further legitimate the undemocratic CE election through joining the race, we do want to become the critical minority that can determine the final outcome.”

That being said, the Hong Kong Christian Council which has 10 seats under the Religious sub-sector recently announced that they will replace an election with two rounds of ballot, citing low turnout rate in the previous election. A maximum of 40 candidates from individual Christians, churches, Christian institutions and associations will be shortlisted in the first round. The government’s electoral officer will then conduct a second round to pick the final 10. How that is going to affect the pan-democrats’ plan remains uncertain.


The paratroopers

The main battlefield may be in the Second Sector, but a few manoeuvres in other sectors can also turn the balance of power in favour of the pro-democracy camp. Challengers who lost in the LegCo elections are planning a comeback in the EC elections to extend the camp’s portfolio. They are Au Nok-hin (區諾軒) in the Wholesale and Retail sub-sector, Adrian Chow Pok-yin (周博賢) in the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication sub-sector and Ng Wing-tak (伍永德) in the Catering sub-sector (see graph 3).

Graph 3
Graph 3

“I am trying to form a ticket instead of running on my own, but it’s hard to find someone within the Wholesale and Retail sector who is a pan-democrat and is willing to stand up,” Au tells Harbour Times. “But I still hope those who voted for me can back me once again so that we can at least pick a CE who will serve us better.”

Au lost to Liberal Party’s Shiu Ka-fai (邵家輝) by about a thousand votes in the LegCo election. Veteran Liberal Party politician Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee (周梁淑怡), meanwhile, led her ticket and grabbed 17 out of 18 seats in the same sub-sector in the last EC election. But Au believes that he still has a chance.

“The fact that Chow’s team failed to win all seats implies that in some sub-sectors voters don’t necessarily follow your plan and that personal reputation still matters,” Au explains.


The ‘ABC’ card

While Ricky Wong Wai-kay (王維基)’s surprising defeat in the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency suggests that the ‘Anyone-but-CY’ card may not be as appealing as originally anticipated, it can be a different story for the EC elections.

When commenting on the possibility of some pro-establishment candidates taking votes over from the pan-democratic camp by playing the ‘ABC’ card, Kwok says he has faith in their voters: “They are professionals after all. They know how to distinguish us from the rest.”


Self-justification or Breakdown from within?

Ultimately, the pan-democrats’ goal is to abolish both functional constituency seats in the LegCo and an Election Committee that bars most people from voting for the CE. Ironically, while the rise of radical forces prevent the moderates from making compromise with Beijing, the pan-democrats themselves are also demanding the FCs to cater to a wider voter base by abandoning company votes in some sectors. It is questionable whether the existing system will be brought down at some point as the pan-democrats gain more political power within the establishment. It will need political determination and courage – and of course an unlikely approval from Beijing – to achieve genuine universal suffrage in both LegCo and CE elections.