The failure of “keep the critical vote” appeal

The recent Legco by-election polling data suggested that “keep the critical votes” no longer appeal to the voters. But why? How important are the pan-democratic camp votes in the Legco? Did the pan-democratic legislators treasure their votes in past?

Despite the political storm of disqualifying the Legco by-election candidates in the past few weeks, Hong Kong has just passed one of the quietest election with a low-turnout rate. Candidates of the Pan-democracy camp have been using “keep the critical votes” as an emergency appeal to call for more voters. Yet, they failed to win all of the four seats back, as polling result suggests that there’s a shrink of its vote share.

The total turnout rate of the by-election dropped by more than 4 percent against the 2016 by-election and 18.2 percent against the general election.

Apart from the failure of political campaigns and appeal to the local supporters admitted by the candidates, some voters expressed their disappointment towards the past performance of the pan-democratic legislators by “cast the vote in the sea”, which literally means casting a blank vote.

In three recent by-elections, the blank vote rate reached 3.4 percent in 2010’s controversial “Five Constituency Referendum”, followed by a significant drop to 0.38 percent in 2016, and in this year rose up to 0.92 percent.

“I don’t trust that they (Pan-democratic candidates) can keep the critical votes anymore. I would rather cast a blank vote than send them back to the Legco,” said Calvin Lung Chi-hung, Kowloon West geographical constituency voter, 37.

Michael Ho Tsz-him, 23, voter of the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency said that he refused to vote in the by-election as he is tired of the “keep the critical vote” appeal.

“Those Democrats(always) claim that this is the time to defend our rights and so on. This is something like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, everytime you use the same card. This is not going to work to me or my fellows again,” said Michael.

High absent rates of the pan-democratic legislators

Among the top ten legislators on the list of worst absent rate of the legislators, eight are from the Pan-democracy camp. They are Dennis Kwok Wing-hang (2nd highest), Prof. Joseph Lee Kok-long, Kenneth Leung Kao-cheong and Hui Chi-fung (3rd highest) and Ip King-yuen(8th highest), Leung Yiu-chung and Wu Chi-wai (9th highest) and Shiu Ka-chun(10th highest).

The number of absent vote accounts for 28 percent of the overall votes in the current term (2016-2018/03/21). According to the LegCo voting procedure, if the legislator is absent or does not press the “Present Button”, the vote will be counted as absent.

Knowing such fact, Gary Chu, 21, said, “Pan-democratic camp’s claim of ‘critical vote’ is still persuasive to me”.
He voted for Gary FAN Kwok-wai, believing that the Pan-democratic camp can stop motions of great controversy, though the camp makes mistakes sometimes.

Importance of the Critical vote

The attendance of the Pan-democratic camps is vital in keeping the critical vote. As a simple majority vote is needed in order to pass or object the bill, motions or amendments proposed by the government and individual legislators.

Motions, bills or amendments introduced by or to the Government

On one occasion, a simple majority vote of all present legislators is needed to pass the bills introduced by the government. As for the motions or amendments introduced by individual legislators to the government bills, a simple majority vote is needed in both of the functional constituencies and the geographical constituencies groups in the direct elections.

Motions, bills or amendments introduced by individual Members

For the motions, bills or amendments introduced by individual legislators, the voting procedures involved are similar to the method mentioned above. However, the passage of the motions, bills or amendments requires a majority vote from the present legislators from both groups.

Infographic of the voting procedure
infographic1 infographic2

Failure to safeguard the critical vote

In the past, there are a few controversial motions, bills or amendments being passed or negatived as a result of the not-show-up by the Pan-democratic camp.

In the following cases, motions put by Pan-democracy legislators were rejected due to the veto of the Pro-establishment camp in the Functional Constituency. To made the matter worst, movers of these motions did not gain enough support from members of the same camp.

(CLICK to open out VOTE RECORD EXPLORER to check full details)

  • Summon SJ to to testify on matters related to the persistent withholding of public information by government departments at present. Motion was negatived in Geographical Constituency with 7 YES - 11 NO while 12 pan-democratic member were absent. (01-02-2018 Mover: Chu Hoi-Dick)(table)

<--On mobile please Scroll to view the full table -->

Constituency: Geographical Constituency Functional Constituency
Vote: Yes No Absent Abstain Present Yes No Absent Abstain Present
Pan-democratic Camp: 7 0 7 0 0 3 0 6 0 0
Pro-establishment Camp: 0 11 5 0 0 0 18 5 0 1
  • Summon Commissioner of Police to testify matters regarding the purchased water cannons. Motion was negatived in Geographical Constituency with 9 YES - 12 NO while 5 pan-democratic member were absent. (18-01-2018 Mover: Kenneth Leung)(table)
Constituency: Geographical Constituency Functional Constituency
Vote: Yes No Absent Abstain Present Yes No Absent Abstain Present
Pan-democratic Camp: 9 0 5 0 0 6 0 3 0 0
Pro-establishment Camp: 0 12 4 0 0 0 17 6 0 1
  • Regarding the amendment on Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Animal Traders) Regulation, aiming at controlling illegal pets trading, Jeremy Tam and Claudia Mo proposed to delay the enactment date for the public’s better knowledgement of the new regulation. Motion failed in both constituencies, 3 were absent. (18-01-2017 Mover: Jeremy Tam & Claudia MO)

  • HUI Chi-fung proposed 12 amendment advice to support middle class in terms of housing, education, labour right. (02-03-2017 Mover: HUI Chi-fung)(table)
Constituency: Geographical Constituency Functional Constituency
Vote: Yes No Absent Abstain Present Yes No Absent Abstain Present
Pan-democratic Camp: 7 0 7 3 0 6 0 4 0 0
Pro-establishment Camp: 0 7 5 4 0 1 13 9 0 1
  • Kwok Ka-ki proposed amendments to urge review on Hong Kong capability to serving more shopping trips, and the review of investment into the Disneyland. He also suggested to develop diversified tourism. (22-03-2017 Mover: Kwok Ka-ki)(table)
Constituency: Geographical Constituency Functional Constituency
Vote: Yes No Absent Abstain Present Yes No Absent Abstain Present
Pan-democratic Camp: 11 1 2 3 0 5 0 5 0 0
Pro-establishment Camp: 6 0 3 7 0 3 11 4 5 1

Motions introduced and passed by Pro-establishment camp due to absent of the Pan-democratic Members and as a result led to the failure of using veto power in the Geographical Constituency direct election.

  • Cheung Kwok-kwan proposed an amendment to delete the criticisms on the poor performances and frequent oversea official visits against former Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim. Passed 14-8 in Geographical Constituency with 9 absent from the Pan-democratic camp. (15-12-2016 Mover: Cheung Kwok-kwan) (table)
Constituency: Geographical Constituency Functional Constituency
Vote: Yes No Absent Abstain Present Yes No Absent Abstain Present
Pan-democratic Camp: 0 8 9 0 0 0 8 2 0 0
Pro-establishment Camp: 14 0 2 0 0 17 0 6 0 1

Voting against camp fellow:

  • IP Kin-yuen proposed a motion to criticise the unsatisfactory performance of former Secretary for Education, Eddie Ng Hak-kim and listed out the prerequisites for selecting the next Secretary. The motion was passed by the votes from Pro-establishment camp while Pan-democratic members voted contrastly and 8 of them were absent. (15-12-2016 Mover:IP Kin-yuen) (table)
Constituency: Geographical Constituency Functional Constituency
Vote: Yes No Absent Abstain Present Yes No Absent Abstain Present
Pan-democratic Camp: 0 9 8 0 0 0 8 2 0 0
Pro-establishment Camp: 14 0 2 0 0 18 0 5 0 1

Responses from the Pan-democratic camp

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, from People Power party, told the Citizen News that attendance is the basic requirement and Pan-democratic members should attend different meetings more proactively.

“We said we want to struggle inside the LegCo. But if you don’t attend the meetings at all, how can you fight?”, said Raymond. “It’s not ideal that only several Pan-democratic members present in the meetings, things can happen at anytime. It’s easy to let the Pro-establishment to do whatever they want when we don’t have enough members.”

Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, from the Civic Party, said that he’s more focused on the meetings of Bills Committee as he is the representative of the Legal functional constituency, according to Citizen News. He said that he would attend more meetings in the future.

SHIU Ka-chun said that his attendance rate was low when he just became the legislator as he thought House Committee and Subcommittees only handle logistic matters. He said that he has already improved his attendance by attending more meetings.

Among the above discussed controversial issues, the failure of passing the follow-up subcommittee on Wang Chau Development Project Bill proposed by pan-democratic legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick caused backlashes from the supporters most. It also led to a dispute among the camp members. As ten pan-democratic legislators were absent on that day.

Chu later that day post on his Facebook page that the failure is due to failure of getting a simple majority vote during the direct election session among the geographical constituency.

The Democratic Party member Lam Cheuk-ting responded to Chu that he was waiting to made a confession in the high court on the district council election petition filed by his opponent. He stated that he wished to strengthen mutual communication among the camp members to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding in the future, according to the report by Inmedia Hong Kong.

Leung Kai-Cheong said he was the convener of the "300 plus" consortium of the democratic election committee and was required to accompany the candidates to sign up on that day. He said that he could not reschedule with others as it was their common strategy to register on the first day.

Dr. Lau Siu Lai, now a former legislator, admitted her negligence on that day. She said that she had to attend the Commercial Radio show that morning. The program was originally scheduled to end at 9 a.m. but it overran to 9:30 a.m., so she failed to come back and vote.

Wan Siu-kin, also from the Democratic Party, claimed that he was being interviewed by the media and in a meeting with the market hawkers at that time. He claimed that no one called him back to vote.

"Every Member have our own business need to deal with, so please do not amplify the effect of our absence," Wan told the Inmedia Hong Kong.

Voters call for better performances of the Pan-democratic camp

No one can guarantee things will get better if the Pan-democratic camp could perform perfect attendance, but their absence is making the "Critical Vote" claim less persuasive.

The high absent rate that led to the failure in fully utilizing the power of the critical vote disappointed the voters. Many hope that they can improve their performances in the future.

“I don’t find the by-election meaningful”, unlike in previous elections, Perry Chock, a university student, did not vote in the New Territory East Constituency he resides in. “Election is not about choosing a camp, but choosing the candidate whose manifesto and performance are endorsed by voters”, said Perry.

Connie Yeung, 35, a voter of the New Territories East, said that she was reluctant to cast her vote for the Pan-democratic candidate even though she did so in the by-election.

“I voted simply because I don’t want more Pro-establishment members to enter the LegCo. I understand clearly that they cannot safeguard the critical vote”, said Connie. “They should improve their performance as I don’t want to vote because I have to instead of I want to anymore.”

Evan Fowler, commentator and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press, and several other online news platforms, said that he is worried people will eventually lose their faith in the LegCo despite the fact that voter mechanics of the by-election are different to general elections.

“The blank vote to my mind expresses a growing dissatisfaction with the entire political system. This should worry both sides, as if people lose faith in the constitutionally mandated form of political representation they will take to working outside the system”, said Evan.

Data collected and analysed concerns 37 Council Meetings (including resume of meeting on the other day), 400 Motions voted, all together 26882 votes, since the 6th term of Legislative Council elected, up to 21th March, 2018.

Data source: Legislative Council HKSAR: Meeting Schedule, Voting Results and Record of Proceedings


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