Former lawmaker Andrew Cheng has said he will not join the Legislative Council by-election race next year. He is the first potential contender to make such an announcement among four pro-democracy figures who have expressed interest in running.

The pro-democracy camp is still undergoing an internal discussion over whether to host primaries for the by-elections on March 11 next year. They seek to fill three vacant seats left by lawmakers who were disqualified by a court following legal action by the government.

In a message distributed by pro-democracy camp coordination platform Power for Democracy, Cheng said he hoped the camp would select the candidate with the best chance of winning by using a primary mechanism: “I would not give my individual support to anyone in the primary,” Cheng said.

Andrew Cheng Kar-foo. File Photo: Inmedia.

As by-elections are run under a first-past-the-post system, a concentrated level of support for one candidate would give them a higher chance of winning. Power for Democracy said it will continue uniting the pro-democracy camp to reach a consensus over primaries, to prevent the pro-Beijing camp from taking advantage.

Several pro-democracy figures have expressed interest in running in the New Territories East constituency, including Democratic Party district councillor Au Chun-wah, former student leader Tommy Cheung, and the Neo Democrats party former lawmaker Gary Fan.

On the pro-Beijing side, Federation of Trade Unions former lawmaker Bill Tang is also rumoured to be entering the race.

‘Vote snatching’ accusation

Cheng, a solicitor, was a lawmaker between 1998 and 2012 in the constituency. He did not seek re-election in 2012, but returned to run in the 2016 election and lost.

Cheng was a former Democratic Party member before he withdrew in 2010. He then worked closely with the Neo Democrats – many of whom also left the Democratic Party – until in the 2016 election, when he broke his promise of not running. Cheng was accused of snatching votes from Gary Fan.

Gary Fan Kwok-wai of Neo Democrats. File

On election day, three Neo Democrats district councillors suddenly switched sides to help Cheng instead of Fan – both went on to lose.

‘Give up mechanism’

Recently, Democratic Party Vice-Chair Lo Kin-hei, a district councillor, suggested that the pro-democracy camp should give up hosting primaries, because of limitations.

Previous primaries in the 2007 LegCo by-election and the 2012 chief executive election employed a rating method whereby half of the results depended on opinion polls, and the other half depended on actual votes.

Lo Kin-hei. Photo: Facebook/Lo Kin Hei.

Lo said opinion polls may favour more famous politicians, and pro-democracy parties do not have the resources to multiple voting stations, making it unfair to some.

Instead, Lo suggested a mechanism whereby all contenders join the election, but they should have a consensus so that on a designated day – such as a week before the election – those behind in the polls should suspend their campaigning. This would allow the candidate with the best chances to absorb their votes.

“This way, all candidates from different parties can show their abilities during the election… it is relatively fair. At the same time, voters can have the opportunity to learn about the candidates, to make their choices with sufficient information,” Lo wrote.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.