By Christopher Niem

It has been an interesting few weeks for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), as several of its high profile members were caught up in various scandals. From preferential treatment for its former chairman at a hospital to late night excursions by a member to a karaoke bar in China, the DAB has been making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Then on the 1st of June, party leader Starry Lee Wai-king asked Christopher Chung Shu-kun, an incumbent DAB lawmaker in the Legislative Council (LegCo), to run as the second place candidate on their only list in Hong Kong Island in the upcoming 2016 LegCo election. This decision all but extinguishes Chung’s chance of re-election with the DAB, and seemed to confirm an internal split within the party. Chung, who took the decision badly, is considering quitting the party and running as an independent.

Christopher Chung.

On the surface, the DAB’s decision to field only one list in Hong Kong Island in the upcoming LegCo election is a strange one. This is despite the number of seats in Hong Kong Island decreasing from seven to six. Chung said as much, when he pointed out that the list he led in the 2012 LegCo elections fared far better than fellow pro-establishment parties. The DAB list he led beat the New People’s Party (NPP) list and in particular the Federation of Trade Union’s (FTU) list by a large margin, gaining over 6,000 more votes than the latter.

With this in mind, the reduction of seats in Hong Kong Island would seem to threaten the chances of the NPP and FTU regaining their seats, especially as they were the two winning parties with the fewest number of seats in 2012. Lee wrote in her Metro Daily column that the DAB feared that if they fielded two lists, they ran the risk of not winning any seats, a situation which the Democratic Party encountered in the previous LegCo elections in the New Territories West constituency. However, this would seem to be an extremely unlikely scenario for the DAB in Hong Kong Island in 2016, unless they are predicting a large decrease in their popular vote.

Lawmaker Chris “Tree Gun” Chung.

Rumours have been swirling that the China Liaison Office, in an effort to co-ordinate the election strategy of pro-establishment parties, put pressure on the DAB to run only one list in Hong Kong Island. This would smooth the path for FTU’s Kwok Wai-keung to transition from the functional to the geographical constituency.

Why then, did the DAB ostracise Chung by offering him second place on their only list on Hong Kong Island? This seems at odds with their advertising campaign so far. Pro-establishment parties have run a glut of election advertising in the run up to the 2016 LegCo elections, including billboards and advertisements on minibuses and taxis. Chung has featured prominently in the DAB’s push for publicity, appearing on banners on taxis with Lee, as well as big billboards dotted around Hong Kong Island, including a large poster next to Times Square in Causeway Bay. It seems strange that the DAB would spend so much money promoting Chung’s bid for re-election, only to dump him in second place on their list.

Civil servants counting votes. Photo: HKFP.

Chung has intimated that he is ready to quit the DAB and run for re-election as an independent. Judging by the election results from 2012, it appears that he has a good opportunity to win his seat back. Despite Chung losing his seat as an Eastern District councillor in 2015, a position he had held since 1992, he still enjoys widespread support in the wider district. His visible presence within the district, where he has also served as vice-chairman and chairman of the council, allowed him to win over 25,000 votes in the district in 2012. With almost three-quarters of his votes coming from a single district containing just over half of all voters in the constituency, Chung’s strong support base gives him a good chance of re-election in 2016, should he be able to maintain similar levels of support.

The battle for seats in the 2016 LegCo election in Hong Kong Island will be fierce. Despite the DAB’s very public falling out with Chung, it remains to be seen whether two lawmakers with close ties to the party are elected again in Hong Kong Island. Should Chung decide to run as an independent, backed by his strong support in the Eastern District and the DAB’s publicity campaign, he will have a good chance of retaining his seat.

Christopher Niem

Christopher Niem is a Hong Konger who writes about politics, sports, and philosophy. In particular, he is interested in how Hong Kong’s nascent political system is evolving.