Hong Kong residents are split on whether incumbent lawmakers should serve out their extended Legislative Council terms, but more than 60 per cent of opposition supporters say the camp should boycott the legislature’s meetings in the coming year.
A survey released on Friday served as a surprise reference for the pan-democrats, with Legco’s two largest opposition parties deciding to conduct a poll to gauge people’s views on whether they should exit the legislature.
The authorities’ decision to let incumbent lawmakers remain in office for at least a year following the coronavirus-related postponement of September’s Legco elections triggered a split in the opposition camp.
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Most were inclined to stay in Legco to block any controversial government proposals, but localists argued for a collective boycott of an extended term they said violated democratic principles.
The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute randomly polled 1,012 residents from Tuesday to Thursday and found 37 per cent of respondents supported all incumbent lawmakers serving out the term, recently extended by Beijing, while 41 per cent opposed them staying. The rest were undecided.
Among those who identified themselves as opposition supporters – about half of the respondents – just 19 per cent said lawmakers should stay while 61 per cent believed they should leave.
Institute president Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu said the overall results showed the public were split with no majority view.
“It is only a very initial stage, and residents are not very informed about the significance of resigning or remaining,” Chung said.
He said the Democratic Party, which on Thursday announced its campaign to hold a poll on leaving Legco, briefly contacted the institute but cooperation was not confirmed yet.
But he proposed that when the party and the Civic Party conducted their public opinion poll, they should consider making the results binding only if either one of two thresholds were met.
The pan-democrats should serve out or resign from the extended term if more than 50 per cent of the overall respondents decided either way, or if more than two-thirds of their supporters did so.
Chung said the pan-democrats could also consider a wait-and-see approach.
“They can quit later after choosing to stay, but they cannot stay any more after resigning,” he said.
Lam Cheuk-ting, a Democratic Party lawmaker, said they needed time to discuss the methodology of the citywide survey with pollsters and allies who pledged to abide by the results.
“We’ve already started debating with localists who hold different views to us. We hope Hongkongers will understand that we still have important roles in the chamber to fight against evil bills pushed forward by the government,” he said.
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said they would leave it to the Democratic Party, which commissioned the poll, to decide whether they would follow the choice of the whole population or pan-democrats.
Yeung said that with about 20 per cent of respondents in Friday’s poll undecided, remainers should try harder to convince the public about this “highly divisive matter”.
“Both sides have persuasive arguments and there is still a wide rift that we cannot stride over at the moment,” he said.
Dr Chung Kim-wah, deputy chief executive of the institute, said he was surprised 61 per cent of opposition supporters were against the pan-democrats serving out the year.
“It shows their strong dissatisfaction, against the postponement and Beijing’s decision [to extend the term],” Chung said.
Pointing to the Brexit campaign, in which Britain voted to leave the European Union by 52 per cent to 48 per cent in a simple majority referendum, Chung said a lesson to learn was political leaders should set a threshold for such binding polls.
“For any important decision, even a 50 per cent threshold may not be enough,” Chung said.
Meanwhile, the institute also conducted a separate online survey for residents to express their views on the Legco exit question. In the past few days, numerous localist activists who supported a collective boycott mobilised supporters to take part, with 63 per cent of the 21,300 people who called themselves pro-democracy supporters opposed to lawmakers remaining in Legco.
Localist activist Fergus Leung Fong-wai said the results of both polls showed they were not the minority.
“I believe both the leave or remain camp should go back to the streets to persuade those who do not agree with them,” he said, speaking of the citywide poll.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung believed the pan-democrats should stay in Legco and disagreed with their decision to let the public choose.
“When the camp vetoed the government’s political reform package in 2015, they didn’t follow the majority view,” Choy said. “Political leaders should look at long-term strategic values.”