Three prominent pro-democracy candidates are set to face off against each other in a key Legislative Council race, after they failed to agree on a mechanism to decide which one of them should run in the election. Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union president Yip Kin-chung, the Civic Party’s Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, and Reclaiming Social Work Movement’s Shiu Ka-chun all want to represent the social welfare constituency in LegCo.
A plan to create a primary contest between them fell apart this week.
It is now possible that all three men will run in the election, potentially splitting votes among the pro-democracy camp.
Pro-democracy politicians have held the social welfare seat for the past five terms. The incumbent legislator, the Labour Party’s Cheung Kwok-che, is retiring.
Since last Saturday, two pro-democracy figures have been communicating with the three potential candidates to discuss the possibility of having a primary before July 16, when the nomination period for the LegCo election starts.
The talks were led by University of Hong Kong law scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who proposed the Thunderbolt Plan, and Andrew Chiu Ka-yin, convenor of Power for Democracy and a Democratic Party district councillor.
Both men have attempted to act as mediators to coordinate election candidacy for pro-democracy figures but their efforts were not successful.
In a statement, the Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union said it was “not the best timing to hold a primary.”
It said the union agreed with the idea of a primary, but preparation time was too short, and there were practical issues to be solved before the primary could be a meaningful one.
The obstacles include the difficulty of confirming the identity of voters in the functional constituency for the primary, and the inadequate number of polling stations.
Yip Kin-chung withdrew from the Democratic Party to solely represent the traditional pan-democratic union, as Tsang – also a vice-president of the union – and Shiu represent more progressive voices in the sector.
Shiu told HKFP that there was nothing more to be discussed, and he was “somewhat disappointed” but will respect the outcome.
“A primary is an advance for election campaigning, it could be a trial this time, but it will be an important step in Hong Kong’s future development in democracy,” Shiu said.
Shiu added that his group, Reclaiming Social Work Movement, endorsed the details of a proposed primary discussed last Saturday without suggesting any changes to the proposed date, budget and number of polling stations, in the hopes of speeding up the process.
The Civic Party, according to Shiu, only suggested small changes to the details.
In a statement, the Civic Party said it was disappointed that “one party ultimately decided not to join.”
It added that Tsang will still consider running and the party will make a decision after deliberation.
In the last election in 2012, Cheung Kwok-che – who represented the Social Workers’ General Union – received 9,078 votes and beat pro-Beijing candidate Chan Yee-fei, who received 1,113 votes. The social welfare functional constituency has 13,794 individual voters registered for the election in September.
Yip, of the union, had said that even if there were three candidates from the pro-democracy camp sharing the votes, and the pro-Beijing camp’s votes doubled, the pro-democracy camp would still likely win the election.
But Shiu said the suggestion of a primary was not only about blocking the chances for the pro-Beijing camp, but also to set an example of a civilised way for parties to pick candidates, and as a kind of education in democracy for Hong Kong people.
The union said that if there are three pro-democracy camp candidates and a pro-Beijing camp candidate after the nomination period ends on July 29, it was willing to discuss with all pro-democracy candidates to avoid the pro-Beijing camp candidate from “achieving a successful ambush.”
In an election for the statutory body Social Workers Registration Board, Shiu and Tsang received the highest number of votes. Yip did not participate in the election.
No pro-Beijing camp figures have publicly announced their interest in running for the LegCo seat.