The Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu held on for a narrow victory over DAB’s Holden Chow Ho-ding in the New Territories East by-election, avoiding the ultimate consequence of a vote split with Edward Leung Tin-Kei of Hong Kong Indigenous.

Yeung and Leung must be congratulated for running two of the better election campaigns in Hong Kong’s post-1997 history. Both candidates were huge winners and Hong Kong witnessed the birth of two new political stars. Their positions could have led to a cannibalism of votes, handing the seat and the control of the geographical constituency to Chow and the pro-establishment camp.

yeung alvin leung edward
Yeung and Leung shaking hands with each other.

Not only was this possibility real, but the consequences of the loss would have caused an irreversible rift within the anti-establishment front. Instead, their mutual respect for each other’s position in the Hong Kong political spectrum instilled a sense of much-needed solidarity within the anti-establishment front moving forward.

While Yeung secured the vacant seat, the bigger winners were Leung and the new political forces of Hong Kong. Securing over 15% of the total votes, they far exceeded pre-election expectations despite some supporters strategically voting for Yeung to keep the pro-establishment forces from controlling the geographical constituencies group.

Leung made maximum use of the by-election’s exposure to introduce localism ideas to society in a mild and conversational manner. He showed us he is not only an ultra-radical, but that he is also an articulate, measured, and deep thinker who just happens to back up his wisdom with action.

His consistently outstanding performances in public debates endeared him to the progressives of Hong Kong and opened their minds to new ideas. He carried a refreshing sense of honesty and humility and invited society to judge his ideas and actions at the ballot box. And he won the vote of confidence he so desired.

Edward Leung Tin-kei
Edward Leung Tin-kei. Photo: Chantal Yuen/HKFP.

Besides the rise of Leung, Yeung had to deal with stiff competition from local populist Christine Fong Kwok-shan and faux-opposition Nelson Wong Sing-chi. If Yeung employed the strategies of the old pan-democratic guards, he would have chosen to attack Leung’s radicalism head-on and claw back enough voters for a comfortable victory.

But this would have pitted the two factions of the anti-establishment camp against each other. He showed political savviness by correctly gauging the tolerance and support of localism and new-radicalism in Hong Kong.

He mostly deferred to his best position – securing control of the geographical constituency without attacking Leung, choosing only to spar with the independent Fong to consolidate the anti-establishment vote and to distinguish Wong from a genuine middle ground candidate. Yeung wanted the victory, but not at the expense of severing the ties between pan-democrats and the students and youth of the new political forces.

Pan-democrats and new political forces must co-exist in today’s political environment to protect Hong Kong. Some traditional pan-democrats may be uneasy with the ultra-radicals and their methods, but the reality is that the new political forces are entrenched in Hong Kong with good reasons.

Pan-democratic lawmakers
Pan-democratic lawmakers. Photo: Stand News.

Is there any room for moderate lawmakers when the current political environment is an unjust system which confers no legitimacy on the Legislative Council? How do we expect moderate voices to deal with the tyranny of functional constituency lawmakers like Chan Kin-por, who has no respect for the voices of Hong Kong people? Maybe it will get ugly, but the darkest hour is just before the dawn.

Supporters of new political forces need to stop seeing traditional pan-democrats as their foes. They must accept that their ultra-radical methods may never be acceptable to some parts of society, but there will be times when they must stand united with willing allies.

Since 1997, the pro-establishment camp has benefitted repeatedly from unnecessary rifts in the pro-democracy camp. The mutual respect between Yeung and Leung was certainly a recurring theme throughout the by-election; this shared respect needs to be replicated across the greater anti-establishment front.

Michael Leung writes about human rights and socio-legal issues affecting Hong Kong. He is currently a master's student at Harvard Law School and was a graduate of The Chinese University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Law and the University of Waterloo. After beginning his career with stints in Big Four accounting firms and international banks, his interests now lie in envisioning a better city where justice and traditional Hong Kong values reign supreme.