The different responses from the Hong Kong government and public to two Legislative Council candidates who claim to have been threatened and intimidated present an object lesson for those aspiring to become—or not to become—local heroes in the city’s new rough-and-tumble brand of politics.
Option 1: Stay and fight—like Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who won a New Territories West seat by garnering 84,121 votes, more than any other candidate in the five geographic constituencies—and you become a media sensation embraced by everyone from the average person in the street to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
Option 2: Cut and run—like Ken Chow Wing-kan, who dropped out of the electoral scramble for seats in the same constituency and fled to the United Kingdom—and you are maligned as a coward and dismissed as a liar.
At this point, however, nearly three weeks after Chow, a member of the pro-business Liberal Party, abruptly pulled the plug on his campaign, the long-serving Yuen Long district councillor is more deserving of pity than scorn.
One of Chow’s rivals in the campaign—solicitor Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, a well-known darling of the central government’s liaison office in the city with close ties to the powerful rural body, Heung Yee Kuk—has even admitted that one of his campaign assistants was the organiser of an intimidation plot against Chow hatched on WhatsApp.
In an audio clip shared with reporters by Chow, the assistant can be heard rounding up volunteers to “pursue” Chow “until he had no mood” for Legco politics anymore. While Ho acknowledges the plot was initiated by his camp, he denies taking any part in it.
Ho would go on to win a Legco seat and, in the immediate aftermath of his victory, make a point of thanking the liaison office for its support.
Chow, on the other hand, would return from his brief self-exile in Britain to file a formal report with the Independent Commission Against Corruption. He would also call a press conference at which he claimed to have been pressured to drop his campaign—so as to improve the chances of other pro-Beijing candidates such as Ho—during an August 24 meeting with a trio of men at a Shenzhen hotel.
The meeting had been arranged by a “friend,” Chow said, but he refused to name that friend or the hotel where he said the meeting occurred and was also sketchy on details about the three men, who he later described as being from a “secret department” in Beijing, although they spoke in Cantonese.
According to Chow, the men ordered him to suspend his campaign and leave Hong Kong until after the September 4 elections or there would be “unexpected consequences” for him and his relatives and close friends.
Chow claimed that he had previously been pressured to drop his candidacy on three other occasions dating back to mid-July, including a bribe offer of twice his campaign expenses, or around HK$3 million, during a meeting at a hotel in Tuen Mun.
Again, Chow provided no names or other important details about that meeting. Nor can he explain why so much time, money and attention would be given to a politician who, according to pre-election polls, was set to win no more than one percent of the vote in a nine-seat constituency.
As it turned out, five pro-establishment lawmakers were elected in New Territories West. Chow captured 1,469 sympathy votes and now, every time he opens his mouth, he loses more of those.
It’s a shame. There appears to be some substance to his story, but it has been lost in the histrionics he has created and his inability to provide any evidence of the meetings that he alleges took place.
His own party members, to whom he reported none of his allegations, now plan to summon him to a disciplinary hearing at which he may be asked to repay the HK$1.5 million spent on his campaign.
Chow may have wanted his revelations to make him a hero, like disappeared bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who returned to Hong Kong last June after eight months of secret detention on the mainland to blow the lid off the extra-judicial abductions and forced confessions suffered by him and four of his colleagues at Causeway Bay Books. But he wound up playing the fool.
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has vowed to look into Chow’s case, but nothing will ever come of it, and Chow will go down as an inconsequential footnote to the dramatic story of the 2016 LegCo elections.
Meanwhile, a real hero has emerged in the figure of Chu, an independent who ran a campaign specifically targeting the naked corruption and entrenched special interests that we all know have characterised housing practices and policies in the New Territories for as long as anyone can remember.
Chow, Ho and other pro-establishment politicians in the New Territories have made a habit—if not a career—of turning a blind eye to the manipulations and unchecked power of the Heung Yee Kuk and its alleged association with triad enforcers.
For his efforts, the 38-year-old Chu was rewarded with more votes than any other candidate, but he has also received death threats that—unlike Chow’s unsubstantiated charges—Hong Kong police are taking very seriously. Police are currently providing round-the-clock protection for the lawmaker-elect and his family after they moved out of their home to a secret location.
Chu, whose daughter has stopped going to school, now says he is considering moving his family into the LegCo complex at Tamar to ensure their safety. While the Legco secretariat has poured cold water on that suggestion, the Hong Kong government must do everything in its power to protect Chu and his family and to bring those threatening their lives to justice.
Chu hasn’t yet taken his Legco seat, but his election has already turned a new light on a Yuen Long public housing project that was scuttled following opposition from influential rural landlords, while also prompting a personal phone call from a chief executive who knows a hot-button issue when he sees one.
Chu took advantage of that phone conversation to urge Leung to support legislation to reform the mafia-like Kuk into an organisation that is transparent and democratic and to join the campaign to break the collusive link between the Kuk, the government, property developers and triads.
And that, Ken Chow, is how you become a Hong Kong hero.