Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Legislative by-election post-mortem: Did democrat Lee Cheuk-yan fail to win over working-class voters?

Pro-democracy candidate Lee Cheuk-yan lost significantly in grassroots areas during Sunday’s Kowloon West legislative by-election, as well as some middle-class areas, according to polling figures.

His main rival, the pro-Beijing candidate Rebecca Chan, gained 106,457 votes, whilst Lee received 93,047, missing out on victory by over 13,000 votes. The second runner-up, Frederick Fung – a former pro-democracy lawmaker running as an independent candidate – received 12,509 votes. The votes of the two combined were 901 short of Chan’s total.

Lee Cheuk-yan

Lee Cheuk-yan. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Lee lost out in many public housing estates, where he trailed Chan by almost 7,000 votes. At two polling stations in the Kai Tak area, Lee lagged behind Chan by over 2,000 votes.

In the Un Chau & So Uk area, two public housing estates, Lee lost to Chan by 891 votes. Whilst at the Shek Kip Mei public housing estate, he lost out by 867 votes. He lost by similar numbers in the public housing area of Fu Cheong.

Charming the middle-class

Lee won in middle-class areas such as Whampoa West, Olympic, Lai Chi Kok and Mei Foo, but often by smaller margins of around 200 to 300.

Kai Ching Estate

Kai Ching Estate in Kai Tak. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

But he lost significantly in Kowloon Tong and Kadoorie, and other middle-class areas such as Tai Kok Tsui North, where he trailed Chan by 606 votes. Lee also lost by more than 700 votes at polling stations in Ho Man Tin.

Lack of localist support

Compared to the March by-election in the same constituency, Chan received 1,022 votes fewer than pro-Beijing winner Vincent Cheng’s 104,479.

Yan Chan

Yan Chan. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Edward Yiu, who represented the pro-democracy camp in March, received 105,060 votes. The total number of votes of Lee and Fung received on Sunday was 105,556.

Overall, the pro-democracy camp received 159,599 votes in the 2016 legislative election, including 40,862 votes for localist candidates Raymond Wong and Yau Wai-ching. The localist camp often criticises traditional democrats for failing to protect local interests.

Internal rivalry

Ken Yau, a lecturer at University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said the pro-democracy camp repeated the mistakes of the March by-election.

“They failed to learn its lesson from the last time, and failed to push up the turnout rate – they especially failed to gain localist votes,” he said on an RTHK programme on Monday.

He said the rivalry between Lee and Fung – who were both pro-democracy veterans – caused swing voters to vote for neither of them: “Many pro-democracy camp supporters would think there was no unity in the camp.”

Frederick Fung

Frederick Fung. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Fung, a former lawmaker, ran in the election saying that he did not approve of Lee as the representative of the pro-democracy camp without a primary. The pro-democracy camp said instead that Lee was agreed upon by all parties.

Yau also said he did not believe Fung had “snatched votes” from Lee, as those who would vote for Fung might not vote for Lee either, even if Fung had not run.

Legislative by-election post-mortem: Did democrat Lee Cheuk-yan fail to win over working-class voters?