All candidates at Hong Kong’s Election Committee poll on Sunday had to be vetted to ensure they were “patriots” before they could run, but to voters, there appeared to be some deemed more patriotic than others.
The criterion, followed by a reliance on “brand name” candidates, trumped voters’ other considerations, analysts said, as they studied the slate of winners and losers in the city’s first “patriots only” election under Beijing’s overhaul.
Voters seemed to be assessing candidates’ political credentials rather than their professional track records in deciding whom to pick.
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That explained, the observers noted, why reputable professionals and outliers running independently were among the biggest losers in an election marked by a high level of orchestration between hopefuls.
Only high-profile or “brand names” from the pro-establishment camp or those who had pooled their candidacies together in “coordinated lists” secured seats on the 1,500-member Election Committee, while independents were defeated despite being part of the same Beijing-friendly bloc.
Sunday’s poll for the Election Committee – which will wield extensive new powers beyond its traditional role of selecting the city’s chief executive – were the first since Beijing’s radical shake-up of the city’s electoral system to ensure only those regarded as “patriotic” and posing no threat to national security could hold public office.
There was a drastic reduction this year in the electorate, falling from more than 240,000 in 2016 – mostly individuals – to about 4,900, the majority of whom were corporate voters.
Originally, a total of 7,900 voters were registered, but many of them were not required to cast their ballots because members of 27 of the committee’s 40 subsectors were already returned uncontested.
In the social welfare subsector, where a total of 23 candidates fought over 15 seats, Cecilia Chan Lai-wan, 66, was narrowly defeated after several terms of office on the committee.
Chan is a professor emeritus at the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) social work department. Her 5,152 votes were the most recorded in the 2016 Election Committee poll. But this year she only received 51 in a contest involving 144 corporate voters.
Former Democratic Party member Tik Chi-yuen seized the last seat available with 55 votes, and was the only opposition-leaning candidate in the entire race to win.
Professor Joyce Ma Lai-chong, 64, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s department of social work, also missed out with her 48 votes. Ching Chi-kong, 60, director of The Mental Health Association of Hong Kong, an NGO, was defeated after taking just 30 votes – the fewest of the 23 candidates in that particular contest.
Among the winners in the social welfare subsector were: Unicef’s Hong Kong committee chairwoman Judy Chen Qing, who is also daughter of Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office; Wong Yat-fung, vice-chairman of the Full Caring Foundation, a pro-establishment group set up by taxi drivers; and Chu Lai-ling, a 42-year-old project manager and member of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). They were among the seven winners on a 10-member list.
Cecilia Chan, a respected scholar in her field, attributed defeat to her lobbying work, noting the “diligent efforts” of her rivals while admitting she was still learning to work under the new electoral system.
Chan also said she was not too worried that the winners only represented a relatively small section of the profession. “Actually the candidates in the social welfare subsector all talk about poverty alleviation and livelihood issues. Our election platforms are actually very similar.”
Chan added that she hoped new Election Committee members would pick lawmakers – one of the body’s fresh responsibilities – who could closely monitor the government based on its performance and with minimal infighting.
She was still glad that she had managed to join the race under the revamped system, Chan said, but stopped short of saying whether she would run again in five years.
In the 15-member architectural, surveying, planning and landscape arena, architects Ivan Fu Chin-shing, 54, and John Wong Po-lung, 76, the only two contestants not part of a team of 15 fellow trade members, lost out after earning only 29 and 19 votes respectively. The winners’ vote tallies ranged from 44 to 53.
Among the victors was Nicholas Ho Lik-chi, a 34-year-old architect who sits on the Youth Development Commission advising the government. He had been defeated in the 2016 elections.
Political analyst Derek Yuen Mi-chang, who previously taught at HKU, said the results showed that, as far as Beijing was concerned, Election Committee members must not only have expertise in their field, but also demonstrate a history of being staunch patriots.
“This is the first election after a drastic overhaul, and committee members are now empowered to nominate candidates in the Legislative Council poll in December, as well as in the chief executive race in March,” he said.
“So the central government must ensure that nothing goes wrong with this nominating power.”
Yuen also noted that while the DAB occupied more than 150 seats on the committee’s five sectors, the Federation of Trade Unions also secured 76 seats, including 46 in the labour subsector. He said he expected these two parties to become driving forces in Hong Kong politics in the months to come.
In comparison, the Business and Professionals Alliance now only holds 40 seats, while the New People’s Party and the Liberal Party have 21 and 15 respectively.
Professor Song Sio-chong, of Shenzhen University’s Centre for Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macau, agreed the results showed that political credentials were the most crucial attributes of would-be committee members.
“It’s natural that their track record in their field comes only second in importance, and this is an issue that needs to be solved in the future,” he said.
“Maybe we can aim at having more candidates in the committee’s next elections, so having more candidates that are both patriotic and well-established in the subsectors.”
However, Ho Hon-kuen, president of pro-establishment group Education Convergence, disagreed with Song. Ho lost in the 2016 poll but has just been elected to the 13-strong education subsector, saying all successful candidates there were experienced kindergarten or school principals.
“In the last election, the 30 seats were dominated by the Professional Teachers’ Union. Many winners were teachers, and they were not that accountable to the sector as a whole,” he said.
“All winners have been fighting on the frontline for a long time, and the only person who lost was relatively less experienced.”
Ho was referring to Alice Chiu Tsang Hok-wan, a 76-year-old primary school supervisor.
In Sunday’s poll, about 4,380 of the 4,889 voters from 13 subsectors cast their ballot, a record turnout of 90 per cent.
The education subsector’s turnout, at 78 per cent, was lowest among the 13.
But Ho dismissed suggestions that educators were less enthusiastic and supportive of the elections than other professions.
He said it should be remembered that the education subsector – in which 1,368 of the 1,750 eligible voters cast their ballot – had both the largest electorate and the highest number of people turning out.
“Such criticism is very unfair to us. In 2016, only 42 per cent of 80,000 voters voted in this subsector, and this time we have 78 per cent, that’s the way to see it,” he added.
Additional reporting by Rachel Yeo and Jeffie Lam
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