Pro-democracy lawmakers admitted defeat and apologised to voters on Monday after their candidate Lee Cheuk-yan lost in Sunday’s Kowloon West by-election.

Led by faction convener Claudia Mo, democrats bowed in apology and issued a brief statement vowing to never give up. Lee said that democrats will try to “listen more” to the public and will adjust the camp’s strategy accordingly.

claudia mo by-election statement
Claudia Mo reads a statement after democrats lose the Kowloon West by-election. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“To those who did not vote, I understand why they may think we did not listen to their voices. We will seriously reflect and review, and try to regain every Hongkonger’s trust in the pro-democracy camp,” he said.

Lee attributed his defeat to blank votes, vote-splitting arising from competitor Frederick Fung, unscrupulous campaign tactics, as well as the resources of the pro-Beijing camp.

See also: Legislative by-election post-mortem: Did democrat Lee Cheuk-yan fail to win over working-class voters?

“This was the most difficult race of my political career,” Lee added. “We can be disappointed but we must never give up.”

Democrats bow to apologise for losing the Kowloon West by-election. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The by-election took place in order to fill the seat of Lau Siu-lai, who was ousted from the legislature last year over her oath-taking protest. Lau was barred from running for office again, and Lee joined the election as her backup candidate.

With Lee’s defeat, the democrats lost the slim majority they had in the geographical constituency, meaning they now have no veto power over any bill, motion or amendment.

Mo admitted that the loss had dire implications, but said that the democrats had “unprecedented unity” and will soldier on.

“In terms of the geographical constituency, you can say we were totally wiped out,” Mo said, referring to the March and November by-elections that the democrats both lost.

Lee cheuk-yan, claudia Mo
Lee Cheuk-yan and Claudia Mo. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“Even if ‘Long Hair’ won his seat back, we would still be one vote short [of a majority]. That is something to worry about,” she added, referring to ousted lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung.

The next elections faced by the pro-democracy camp will be the District Council elections in 2019 and Legislative Council general election in 2020.

Earlier in the day, Mo said that it was difficult for democrats to gain the support of localists – who elected Yau Wai-ching in 2016 with more than 20,000 votes.

When asked about democrats losing the vote among working-class voters, ousted lawmaker Lau – who had campaigned for Lee – defended the camp, saying that there were substantial canvassing efforts.

Lau Siu-lai
Ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Lee added that the camp should focus on listening first, and not jump to the conclusion that the grassroots vote was the key to their defeat.

‘Political suicide’

In an unexpected move, Leung Kwok-hung publicly disagreed with his pro-democracy colleagues during the press conference and took on a less conciliatory tone.

“To be honest, I didn’t really want to apologise… If you let an authoritarian regime seize victory under a twisted system, that is political suicide,” Leung said, indirectly referring to those who cast blank votes in protest – known informally as the scorched-earth faction.

Like Lau, Leung was one of the six lawmakers ousted from office during “oath-gate,” where courts disqualified lawmakers on the basis of their protests during the swearing-in process.

'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung
‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Leung’s case is pending appeal at the High Court. His seat at the legislature is currently kept vacant, and a by-election will be held once all legal procedures are complete.

Leung added that fragmentation was the main reason for the democrats’ electoral defeat, and said that it was not enough to use “unity as a slogan.”

He said that he plans to run again in future Legislative Council races.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.