Voting has started in the Legislative Council’s Kowloon West by-election to fill the seat vacated by disqualified lawmaker Lau Siu-lai.

Should democrats regain the seat, they will reclaim veto power against the pro-Beijing camp’s bills, motions and amendments, enabling them to vote down any further changes to the legislature’s house rules. But if they lose, the pro-Beijing camp may propose changes, such as fines for lawmakers who are kicked out of the chamber for protesting.

Lee Cheuk-yan
Lee Cheuk-yan campaigning. Photo: Facebook/Lee Cheuk-yan.

Lau was ousted from the legislature in 2016 over protests she made during her oath taking. She abandoned a court appeal against her disqualification in the hope of winning her seat back, but the government banned her from running.

See also: Explainer: Meet the candidates in the Hong Kong West Kowloon by-election

‘Fight for our dignity’ 

Lau’s substitute candidate is Lee Cheuk-yan, a former Labour Party lawmaker supported by the democratic camp. On Sunday, he said his campaign is in an “emergency” state, as he urged supporters to come out to vote.

“This is a very difficult election – a battle between hope and despair,” he said.

He said the government has become draconian after the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.

 Lee Cheuk-yan
Photo: Lee Cheuk-yan.

“Seeing the crackdown on young people who care about society, some feel disappointed with the democrats, some choose to leave the front line, some don’t even want to vote. As much as everyone else, I grieve for Hong Kong’s fall. But we can’t lose our ambition despite the concerns. To save Hong Kong, we will have to pull ourselves together.” he said. “What we are fighting for is beyond a seat in the LegCo, we are also fighting for our dignity!”

Lee admitted they may lose the election as he has faced many attacks. But he said there are still many battles ahead, including the fight against the national security law and the proposed reclamation off Lantau Island, which both have to go through the legislature.

“We may not be able to alter the current situation in the short-term. But we should have the spirit to never surrender. Hong Kong is our home. If we stand in solidarity, your vote is a rebuke to the authoritarian government, lighting up hope for Hong Kong.”

‘We hate a noisy legislature’

Lee’s main rival Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan, who represents the pro-Beijing camp, also said it will be a difficult election for her.

Rebecca Chan Elsie Leung
Rebecca Chan campaigning with former justice secretary Elsie Leung. Photo: Facebook/Rebecca Chan

Chan, a former broadcast journalist and a political assistant to ex-health secretary Ko Wing-man, has received support from major figures including Ko, former justice secretary Elsie Leung, business magnate Allen Zeman, former police chief Andy Tsang and pro-Beijing heavyweight Maria Tam, among others.

Chan said the race is heated as there are five candidates running for one seat: “I hope you urge all your family members to vote for me.”

“I believe you feel the same as me – that we hate a noisy legislature, and we don’t want another lawmaker who will just oppose things for the sake of opposing,” she added. “We need a practical and rational lawmaker. I promise I will put livelihood issues first and put politics aside, and bring your voices into the legislature.”

Spoiler candidate? 

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Frederick Fung is also running in the race, as he said he did not approve of Lee representing the pro-democracy camp without a primary election.

Frederick Fung
Frederick Fung campaigning. Photo: Facebook/Frederick Fung.

He denied snatching votes from democrats. He said, according to a poll, around ten per cent of the voters who voted for pro-democracy and pro-Beijing candidates in the March Kowloon West by-election will support him on Sunday.

“In the poll, half of the voters do not admit they are pro-democracy or pro-Beijing – half of them are looking for a third person,” he said.

Fung said he would not estimate how many votes he will gain, but he expected he “may win with uncertainty.”

As of 10:30am, 32,204 or 6.61 per cent of registered voters have voted in the by-election.

Other candidates include Judy Tzeng Li-wen and Ng Dick-hay.

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.