(EXPLAINER) The by-election and Lantau

Q: What did we learn from the Sunday by-election?

It’s been widely interpreted as a defeat for the pan-Democrats – not least by the democrats themselves, who yesterday publicly apologised to supporters.

They won two of the four seats being contested and remain short of the one-third needed to veto key bills.

Q: So what happened?

For one, it seems the democrat candidates focused too much on ‘DQ’ – the disqualification of legislators that led to the by-elections in the first place. Voters may have been sympathetic but were also looking for a positive reason to vote for the dems.

Edward Yiu, the candidate for Kowloon West, has said he miscalculated by not doing enough door knocking in the housing estates. His campaign was run by Eddie Chu, who triumphed in New Territories West (which includes Lantau) in 2016. But his rural tactics may not have been suitable for the urban areas.

The dems were likely affected by the smaller voter turnout – their vote in the three geographical seats was down ten points or so. It may be voter fatigue, or it may be that localists declined to support moderates like Yiu. The reviews are still underway.

Q: How does this matter for Lantau?

None of the four constituencies directly involved Lantau, but apart from the setback for democratic forces, the result impacts here in a number of ways.

One small point to note is that Bill Tang, who represents Yat Tung North in the Islands District Council, failed in his attempt to win a New Territories East seat.  An official with the pro-government HKFTU, he had held the Legco labour functional constituency seat from 2012-16 (no, it’s not clear how someone from Tung Chung gets to stand in NT East.)

More significantly, Lantau will not benefit from the advocacy of Edward Yiu and another candidate Paul Zimmerman, who ran unsuccessfully for the architectural constituency. Both are informed and committed on Lantau development and conservation issues. Zimmerman, for example, has called for changes in the Waste Disposal Ordinance – the law that allows landowners to dump landfill on their wetland plots with the guaranteed approval of the EPD.

Q: What happens next?

For Lantau, the biggest thing on the Legco calendar – quite possibly later this year – will be the request to fund a feasibility study into the East Lantau Metropolis (ELM).

Note this is not a study to examine its economic or financial viability. It will examine the best way to build the ELM, not to question any assumptions.

If approved it will be the first of many requests to tip taxpayer cash into the biggest project in Hong Kong’s history.

The feasibility study too is a record-breaker. The government was seeking approximately HK$250 million before it withdrew the bill after getting caught up in democrat filibustering last year.

Thanks to the DQs and last Sunday’s by-elections, there won’t be any more filibustering.

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