ALTHOUGH the elections for the Legislative Council are eight
months away, they are already being billed as the most fiercely fought since the
polls were first introduced in 1985.
The next Legco, as the lawmaking body is known, will serve until 2008. It
comprises 30 geographically elected seats and 30 functional constituency seats.
In the geographical constituencies, around 3.7 million registered voters will
choose 30 lawmakers. A proportional representation system is adopted, under
which voters pick parties rather than candidates.
Functional constituency seats represent narrow interests such as the
accounting, legal, medical and business sectors.
The various political parties are now mapping out their strategies and
nominations for the September polls.
Even the government is seen as having joined the fray by keeping a low
profile in order to boost the chances of pro-Beijing candidates in the
Mr. Ma Lik, chairman of the territory's biggest pro-Beijing party, the
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), said: 'We hope to
secure at least 10 Legco seats in the forthcoming elections.'
But he added: 'In the worst-case scenario, we may not secure one seat in each
of the five geographical constituencies.'
The DAB was battered by voters for its pro-government stance and its support
last year for the proposed enactment of a controversial anti-sedition law.
In last November's District Council polls, the DAB won 62 seats, 21 seats
fewer than in the 1999 elections.
The DAB now has 10 seats in the Legco, including six directly elected ones.
To boost its electoral chances in September, the erstwhile strongly
pro-government party has been distancing itself from the administration.
Mr. Ma said last month the DAB would oppose government policies which did not
serve the public's best interests.
He has also told Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa the DAB did not want the
government to cut spending on education, welfare and health care.
Since then, DAB lawmakers have twice opposed a government proposal to trim
university funding for the 2004- 2005 academic year.
The party, however, is walking a fine line.
Pro-Beijing figures, such as tycoon and National People's Congress deputy
Tsang Hin Chi, warned that the DAB could lose the support of pro-Beijing voters
for opposing the administration.
The government, though, appears to have recognised that the more unpopular it
is, the more it jeopardises the electoral chances of pro-Beijing candidates.
There is widespread belief in Hong Kong that the administration will stay in
the background in the run-up to the Legco elections to avoid igniting
Analysts point to government inaction since the Nov 23 district polls. On Jan
7, Mr. Tung failed to set out any new policy for Hong Kong in his annual policy
To avoid antagonising the influential civil service, he pledged in a Jan 12
speech that there would be no more civil service pay cuts for the remaining
duration of his term, which ends in 2007.
Last year's plan for a 6 per cent reduction in civil service pay over this
year and the next will go ahead, however.
Financial Secretary Henry Tang has said too that he had no plans to raise
taxes in his Budget speech in March. He also said a sales tax was unlikely to be
introduced in the next few years.
Still, the pro-democracy camp is ready to take advantage of any government
mishandling of the political situation and other crises, such as the possible
return of Sars.
Pro-democracy groups, including the Democratic Party, the Confederation of
Trade Unions, the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, and the
Frontier, have established an informal coalition to contest the Legco polls.
They have held several meetings to coordinate their election strategy to
avoid splitting the votes.
On Jan 13, the alliance proposed nominating 25 candidates to contest
geographical seats. Overall, it aims to win a majority of at least 31 seats to
have control over the law-making body.
At present, the pro-democracy camp has 17 directly elected and five
functional constituency legislators.
The difficulty which the alliance faces is that around 40 members are
jostling to be candidates.
The situation is complicated by the fact it also has to decide where popular
figures, who are independents in the pro-democracy camp, should stand. They
include barristers Audrey Eu and Alan Leong.
On other fronts, Democratic Party vice-chairman Lee Wing Tat said the
coalition would organise a voter registration drive to attract at least 500,000
A higher voter turnout tends to improve the chances of success of
Professor Li Pang Kwong of Lingnan University said: 'If the voter turnout is
65 per cent, then the pro-democracy groups could win more than half the seats in
The voter turnout in geographical constituencies was 44 per cent in 2000 and
53 per cent in 1998.
To rev up the political momentum, Mr. Lee said the coalition is planning a
second mass march on July 1, the anniversary of last year's 500,000-strong
anti-government protest which shocked the Hong Kong administration and Beijing.
The first task which the pro-democracy camp and its main rival, the DAB, have
to do is to determine the nomination lists for the geographical elections.
For the DAB, the issue is to decide the candidate to be named first on the
nomination list for a particular constituency.
For the pro-democracy camp, there are more hurdles because there are several
They have first to agree on a unified slate of candidates to avoid
vote-splitting, and then decide the names to be cited first on nomination lists.
A disgruntled candidate, whether in the pro-democracy or pro-Beijing camp,
who might not be named first by his party, could break away to form his own team
for the election.
Prof Cheng said: 'The coordination work is tremendously difficult.'
Separately, the pro-business Liberal Party is riding on the rise in its
popularity after its chairman James Tien was hailed as a hero for blocking the
enactment of the anti-sedition law. It is also planning to field several
candidates in the geographical constituencies.
The Liberal Party is the third-largest in the Legco after the Democratic
Party and the DAB with eight Legco members, all of whom represent functional
Mr. Tien, who has never run in a direct election, plans to stand in the New
Apart from incumbent legislators, the party would also field new candidates
to contest functional constituency seats.
Functional constituencies will see fierce contests because they will decide
the balance of power in the next legislature.
Mr. Ivan Choy of the Chinese University said: 'The pro-democracy camp could
win 28 seats. In an extremely optimistic scenario, it could win 30 seats.'