70 seats in contest but boredom reigned supreme

Eva Tsang - Senior Reporter, Sing Tao Daily News

[中文][Oct 2012 - The Journalist] With 70 seats in contest, 10 more than four years ago, the just-concluded Legislative Council election was supposed to be a heated one. But during the two-month run-up to the election, as most candidates failed to present any clear and catchy issue, election news became dominated by the radical democrats, and mudslinging among - and within - the pan-democratic camp and the pro-government camp.

The number of LegCo seats increased from 60 to 70, but the whole election lacked direction. Reporters complained that there was nothing news-worthy to write about. (Ming Pao Photo)
Yes, the national education saga saved the day a week before the election when tens of thousands rallied in Tamar Park outside the government headquarters in Admiralty, to say "no" to the national education classes. But when the controversy died down after its initial major uproar in late July, the whole election was mainly characterized by candidates' advertisements and publicity, all lacking direction. In August, I even heard reporters complaining that the whole thing was so boring there was nothing news-worthy to write about.

The government might have tried to change the atmosphere by launching a series of initiatives two weeks before the polling day, including a low-rent market in Tin Shui Wai. Officials claimed that the measures were intended to help people's livelihood and was not election-related, but it was widely believed that the real aim was to help the pro-government camp's election prospects, and grab news headlines. I don't know whether it boosted the pro-government candidates' prospects, but it did little to change the atmosphere.

With the lack of issues the ground was perfect for the radical People Power to take the leading role - to attack their pan-democratic rivals - although the dramatic scenes of burning "pro-democrats newspapers" Ming Pao and Appledaily did not happen, as some expected. (They did burn a 'Paper Apple Model')

Other than that, I think it was not the general public, but the graft-busters who really felt a bit of the campaigns 'heat. Nearly all political parties once went to the Independent Commission Against Corruption's (ICAC) headquarters in North Point, to make one complaint or another - from the wrong-doings of a former ally to newspaper reports. The frequency of a candidate making appearance outside the ICAC probably exceeded the record of previous elections.

The ICAC headquarters also became the only place where campaign activities seemed to be always going on. But while the complainants in previous elections were usually pan-democrats, it shocked many when Leung Che-cheung from Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), who later won in New Territories West, became the first candidate to lodge a complaint with the graft-busters.

Bribery allegations are nothing new in politics, but for former allies in the pro-establishment camp to break up and take matters to the anti-corruption watchdog, revealing in meticulous details about how a district councillor offered HK$500,000 in graft, while another village representative offered HK$30,000, which was what Leung was exposing was certainly an exciting, juicy political news story. But unfortunately, for some reason, Leung was no longer so bold later on in his campaign; he only appeared in televised forums and "disappeared" at other times, even refusing to answer phone-calls from reporters.

Another tactic was to accuse others of making "false statements". This was nothing new. But this year it became an important tool to fend off mudslinging. It kicked-off with the Democratic Party "big guns" calling a press conference to "clarify" some media reports, followed by their followers lodging a complaint with the ICAC against four newspapers a day later.

The "false statement" melodrama continued later with three other Democratic Party members issuing a statement, accusing former party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming of electioneering for rival Civic Party. The trio also went to the ICAC to complain against Civic Party candidate Kenneth Chan Ka-lok of making a "false statement", because Chan called himself a "professor" when he was technically an "associate professor" only. At this point, it should not be difficult for reporters to judge whether such a matter is a joke, or could really be regarded as mudslinging at all.

The "false statement" tactic was not a pan-democratic camp privilege. Self-proclaimed independent candidate and lawyer Paul Tse who later won in Kowloon East, also accused challenger Wong Yeung-tat of making a "false statement" over their previous legal deals, in which Tse represented Wong in a legal case.

Tse was infamously dubbed by critics as "Western District's godchild" because he was believed to have the "blessings" of the Central Government's liaison office in Hong Kong, which is located in Western District.

Also given a similar nickname was independent candidate Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who won in Kowloon West. Leung adopted a much more aggressive approach, after her rival Lam Yi-lai accused her of speculating in the property market. She took the case to the district court almost immediately - accusing Lam of slander, and asking for compensation. Leung also sought an injunction to ban Lam from making a similar statements again.

Independent candidates might have good grounds when they accuse others of "false statements", but what puzzled me was while these candidates were apparently fully supported by the Liaison Office to run, why didn't anyone complain about "false statements" when they claimed themselves to be "independent", but not “Sai Wan”?