Blame game gets pan-dems nowhere

Editorial | Mary Ma 13 Mar 2018

So, this round of Legislative Council by-election is over.

Prior to the voting, the consensus had it that of the four seats up for grabs, government supporters would at best win the functional constituency seat, with the geographical ones all going to the pan-democrats.

The ruling camp got a sweet surprise.

Edward Yiu Chung-yim was probably the best-known pan-democrat running, but he was defeated in Kowloon West - handing over the directly-elected seat previously held by the opposition to the ruling coalition's Vincent Cheng Wing-shun.

It was a major setback for the pan-dems, whose dream to win back the majority in Legco's geographical section was half shattered. The results mean that except for the one-third minority veto still held by the opposition, the establishment has managed to seal absolute control of Legco, which was first made possible after six pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified.

Two disqualifications remain under court appeal.

Sunday's results should be a welcome development for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who may now expect greater expediency in Legco.

A by-election usually wouldn't have drawn so much attention, but the latest one was rather special.

First, four of them - three geographical and one functional - were held concurrently. And second, they were held to fill vacancies left by pan-democrats, who were earlier disqualified.

It was obvious voters were reluctant to make their voice known at the ballot boxes this time. By the time the polling booths closed, only 43 percent had cast ballots - the lowest turnout in eight years.It's commonly agreed that pan-dems would suffer from low turnouts. The question is why 57 percent of voters didn't bother turning out.

Some pointed fingers at the administration, criticizing it for giving the by-election a cold treatment as it knew a high turnout would disadvantage pro-government candidates.

Others blamed the media for lackluster by-election coverage.

These were unfair comments. What else could the media have reported if the atmosphere was dampened in the first place? Had the atmosphere been hot, wouldn't the media have devoted more resources to covering the election news?

Officials certainly didn't promote the by-election as fully as it did two years ago. But it was just a by-election on Sunday.

Fundamentally, the disappointing turnout was all about the voters. Why did they vote in 2016, but not in 2018?

It's plausible they were disillusioned with the authorities' high-handed policy to disqualify pro-democracy lawmakers, and no longer bothered to vote; or that they approved of the disqualification measures.

The latter case means a significant shift for pan-democrats.

Then, it's also probable that Yiu, for example, was a stranger to Kowloon West, and the aging localities didn't know him. It was in these areas where Yiu failed most miserably.

By the same token, Paul Zimmerman competed in the functional constituency, but was troubled by unauthorized structures at his home prior to the vote.

At the end of the day, the pan-democrats obviously have a lot to reflect on as they lick their wounds.

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