Traditional street campaigning helped secure victory for pro-democracy by-election candidate Au Nok-hin, according to his team member Joshua Wong.

Au was widely seen as the substitute candidate for Demosisto’s Agnes Chow after she was barred from running. He received campaign support from her party, including from their secretary general, Wong.

Wong told a Commercial Radio programme on Wednesday that online and street campaigning were both key to electioneering in the Hong Kong Island constituency.

Au Nok-hin campaigning at a restaurant with Democratic Party district councillor Bonnie Ng. Photo: Facebook/Au Nok-hin.

By-elections adopt a first-past-the-post system whereby candidates have to win almost half of the votes in the constituency to cross the finish line. Au beat pro-Beijing candidate Judy Chan with 137,181 votes, compared to her 127,634 votes – a difference of merely 9,547 ballots.

The campaigning method of Au’s team was in contrast to Edward Yiu, who suffered a defeat in Kowloon West. The pro-democracy ex-lawmaker said he should have done more traditional campaigning on the streets.

Explaining to voters

Wong said he noticed that people he spoke to on the streets may not even know what “DQ” was – a widely-used abbreviation for “disqualification.” The team had to use more familiar terms in Cantonese ensure voters understood the issue.

Au Nok-hin with pro-democracy lawmakers from different generations. Photo: Facebook/Au Nok-hin.

The by-election seats were vacated after four lawmakers were ousted by the High Court following an interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law by Beijing. They were among six legislatures who faced legal action for inappropriately taking their oaths of office upon initially being elected in 2016.

Wong said social media algorithms often created echo chambers for hardcore voters with similar views, but they could not reach voters uninterested in politics.

“In the past, Demosisto may have given people the impression that we know more about online campaigning – to which we agree. But since the end of last year, we realised we needed more than 100,000 votes to win, but Demosisto voters are completely different to those who vote for the Democratic Party,” he said.

The Democratic Party has strong support on Hong Kong Island. Au was a member before he withdrew last year, though he has maintained a good relationship with the party.

“If we want to get votes from Democratic Party voters, we must do some traditional campaigning work,” Wong added.

For instance, Wong said the team regularly sent campaign materials to 21 district councillors’ offices every week, and designed different campaign leaflets for different residential areas, depending on local concerns.

Joshua Wong, Au Nok-hin and Agnes Chow at a late night street stand in Causeway Bay. Photo: Facebook/Au Nok-hin.

In the final two weeks before the election, Wong said that they arranged street stands in Causeway Bay late at night in order to gain support from young voters going back home from the shopping district.

“It helps voters see that you are working hard to prepare for the election,” he said.

Veteran democrats’ help

In particular, Wong said he was impressed by former Democratic Party lawmaker Yeung Sum who helped with campaigning at the Shek Pai Wan Estate. The public housing estate is often considered to be a pro-Beijing camp stronghold, as the camp had won around 70 per cent of the votes there in the past.

Former lawmaker Yeung Sum campaigning for Au Nok-hin. Photo: Facebook/Au Nok-hin.

“To us, the younger generation, Yeung Sum is almost an historical figure. But when he was at Shek Pai Wan Estate, he had friendly chats with elderly people,” he said. “Two days before the election, he shook hands with 60 people in Aberdeen in about an hour, the scene was very shocking to me.”

“We may not know who Yeung Sum is. But for those over 50, they have good memories of him, have good chats with him. These people are still voters and they vote in this election,” he added. “In this election, veteran democrats of different generations have come out to help.”

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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.