2016 LegCo Election Results: Implications for Hong Kong-China Relations

Donald Lee,  former research intern at the Institute of Chinese Studies.

The Hong Kong 2016 Legislative Council (LegCo) election took place on 4 September and was the first election after 2014 Umbrella Movement. This article addresses two questions. First, it examines three keys issues in LegCo Election 2016. Second, it looks at the implications of the election result for the Mainland China-Hong Kong relationship.

The LegCo consists of 70 Members, with 35 of them coming from geographical constituencies through direct elections and equal participation of Hong Kong permanent citizens and, 35 Members from Functional Constituencies with different voting basis in different subsectors.[1] Standnews, an online news portal, categorizes the current political spectrum in Hong Kong as i) Pro-establishment, ii) Pan-democracy, iii) Radical pro-democracy iv) Localism, v) Self-determination, and vi) Uncategorized.[2] What these terms mean and how the elections results went are described in the table and figure below.

Table 1 Hong Kong’s Political Spectrum

Pro-establishment Diehards of Beijing government and Hong Kong SAR government
Pan-democracy Emerged in 1980s, supported “One Country, Two Systems,” while expecting democratization in China and Hong Kong.
Radical pro-democracy Similar to pan-democrats, but they employ more radical instruments both in the Legislative Council and social movements
Localism In Controversy. Agree with “One Country, Two Systems,” but expecting keeping sharp distance to Mainland China and against any Beijing’s influence in Hong Kong
Self-determination The future of Hong Kong should be in the hand of Hong Kong citizens, of which “One Country, One System”, “One Country, Two Systems”, or independence all are options for Hong Kong citizens
Unable to be categorized Unable to be categorized


Figure 1

The Last Three LegCo Elections: Percentage Change in the Votes Obtained by the Different Political Camps[3]

hklegco

Three Key Issues in the 2016 LegCo Election

Six candidate lists advocating separatism and independence were disqualified before the election. However, the decisions were inconsistent. While candidate lists, which advocated independence, such as Edwin Leung, Hong Kong National Party Chan Ho-tin, were disqualified[4], the spokesman of Kowloon East Community Chan Chak-to who advocates independence was able to enter the election. As a result the Electoral Affairs Commission has been accused of ‘political screening.’[5]

Ken Chow Wing-kan of the Liberal Party gave up his election bid two weeks before the election took place. He said that he faced a “high-level” threat by Ho Junius Kwan-yiu’s volunteers. Interestingly, from the political spectrum in Hong Kong, Chow and Ho are from the pro-China camp.[6] After the election, the Liberal Party said from July, people with a pro-Beijing background had asked Chow to withdraw from the election and that the ‘boss’ would pay him back double his expenses in the election campaign. In August, Chow was implicitly threatened by pro-China people who revealed details of his close friends.[7] The Liberal Party sent a letter to Zhang Dejiang and Yu Zhengsheng, Nos. 3 and 4 in the CPC Politburo Standing Committee, requesting them to investigate if anyone was ultra vires – or publicly questioning the role of the mainland’s Liaison Office with Hong Kong. [8]

The Pro-establishment camp, by a well-organized network for vote allocation from Public Opinion Poll conducted by pro-establishment think tanks, and collaboration with different social organizations, could maximize the value of one vote more so than the non-establishment camp.[9] Voters in the vote allocation machine were told to vote for specific candidate list. To counter-balance the pro-establishment vote allocation machine, Dr. Benny Tai Yiu-ting launched ThunderGo to mobilize pan-democrat supporters to vote strategically. After the election, he claimed that ThunderGo was successful because the opposition camp at the end obtained 30 seats. However, he did acknowledge that that ThunderGo also caused some experienced Legislative Councilors of pro-democracy camp to lose their elections and highlighted the vulnerability of ThunderGo: i) in lack of formally registered members, ii) the distance of preferences of all formally registered members and unofficial followers (i.e. when the formally registered members prefer Candidate A, unofficial followers may have strong hesitation about Candidate A and may end up voting for other non-pro-establishment candidates without good communication), iii) fast-changing voting behavior of non-pro-establishment camp supporters, iv) in lack of information to make rational decision, v) the vulnerability of the transmission system of the message from the center to the supporters .[10]

The pro-establishment camp, including pro-Beijing government and pro-SAR government supporters, was well-organized, from coordinating the number of candidate lists, and threats to force undesirable candidates to give up, and a vote allocation machine to maximize the value of a vote. On the contrary, the fragmentation of the opposition camp including disagreements and conflicts within the camp and the free will of its supporters increased the difficulties of making rational decisions.

Implications for Hong Kong-Mainland China Relations

Standnews compared votes obtained by different camps (Figure 1). In 2008, the pro-establishment camp obtained 39.9% of vote while it obtained 41.3% and 40.9% in 2012 and 2016 respectively, which shows support being stable, and simultaneously meaning under a half of residents support the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. In 2008 and 2012, radical and pan-democrats captured 59% and 55% vote respectively. Yet, it dropped drastically by 20% in 2016. Meanwhile, localists and supporters of self-determination obtained 18% of vote. The figures show almost 20% supporters originally from (radical) pan-democrats plus newly-registered young voters had shifted their preference to localism and self-determination.[11]

There are some important implications. First, there is a tendency of an increase of local identity and a weakening of Chinese identity. Second, the degree of confidence in China’s democratization has been decreasing. Third, Hong Kong people have expectation of radical change in the role of Hong Kong in the PRC. The shift from (radical) pan-democracy to localism/ self-determination is the result of the failure of the pan-democracy camp in fighting for democracy for Hong Kong citizens over the past three decades.

Conclusion

Elections in Hong Kong are not merely Hong Kong domestic affairs. If one looks at the in-depth situation, it is a collision between authoritarianism and democracy. The instruments employed by the pro-establishment camp reveal an authoritarian authority running an election campaign in a hybrid regime. At the same time attempts continue to be made by the opposition camp to resist the authoritarian authority despite restrictions.

 

Endnotes

[1] http://www.legco.gov.hk/general/english/intro/know_lc/know_work.pdf

[2] https://www.facebook.com/standnewshk/photos/a.720050934747196.1073741828.710476795704610/1065521006866852/?type=3&theater

[3] https://www.facebook.com/standnewshk/photos/a.720050934747196.1073741828.710476795704610/1065521006866852/?type=3&theater

[4] http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1997682/declaration-form-legco-election-both-unnecessary-and-illegal

[5] http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/1998333/electoral-commission-accused-political-screening-and-double

[6] http://www2.hkej.com/instantnews/current/article/1154359/ 自由黨19人參選區會+測試「開明建制派」市場

[7] https://www.thestandnews.com/politics/周永勤-北京來人說出多名支持者個人資料-威脅-不聽話-棄選就-立即行動/

[8] https://www.thestandnews.com/politics/田北俊-中聯辦7月找我勸周永勤勿參選-免礙何君堯選情/

[9] Au, L.H. (區諾軒). 2015. ‘建制派如何在選舉屈機? - 從區議會到立法會的選舉操控’, [How Powerful is the Pro-establishment Camp in the Elections? From the Elections in District Council to LegCo] (Jianzhi pai ruhe zai xuanju quji? Cong qu yihui dao lifahui de xuanju cao kong) in 香港革新論 (Xianggang gexin lun) [On Innovating Hong Kong] (香港: 大雁(香港)出版基地), pp. 109-18

[10] https://theinitium.com/article/20160910-opinion-bennytai-thundergo/

[11] http://udn.com/news/story/7331/1942460

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