A ballot box to be used in the 2020 Legislative Council election. Photo: info.gov.hk

Both the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps in Hong Kong have called on their eligible supporters to register as voters of the functional constituencies in the Legislative Council by April 2.

The LegCo election, which will take place in September, has been widely seen as a major battlefield for the two camps since most pro-government candidates were overwhelmingly defeated by the pan-democrats in the District Council election last November.

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Some political commentators said winning more than half of the 70 seats in the LegCo is possible but different parties in the pro-democracy camp have to work together.

Over the past two decades, pan-democrats have remained inactive in efforts to win seats in functional constituencies as moderate democrats believed they did not stand a chance to win in the corporate voting system. Others thought it was “immoral” to join the functional constituency elections while calling for abolishing such “small-circle” elections.

Raymond Wong Yuk-man, a former LegCo member, had called many moderate democrats “sinners” as they joined the functional constituency elections. He said even if pan-democrats could win more than half of the seats in LegCo, Beijing could still disqualify them or even dissolve the LegCo.

In an online radio program, Simon Shen, an expert in international relations and Hong Kong politics, told Wong that it would be too early to predict what Beijing would do in future. He said pan-democrats should not rule out any options to “fight for every inch of land” in the democratic movement.

“Winning seats in the functional constituencies is a means to achieve the goal of abolishing the functional constituencies,” he said in a media briefing organised by Citizens’ Press Conference, which was formed by a group of anti-extradition protesters last year, on February 24. “The means and the goal should not be mixed up.”

There is an urgent need for democrats to win at least 36 out of all the 70 seats in the LegCo as a lot of Hong Kong people want to ban the pay rises for the police, stop police brutality and investigate police misconduct, Shen said.

On Wednesday, Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Government and Public administration, the Chinese University Hong Kong, wrote in an article in Ming Pao Daily that in the best case scenario, pan-democrats can win up to 21 out of 35 seats in the direct election, plus another three out of five seats in the functional constituency-district council, assuming that all its candidates would compromise and optimize their supporters’ votes.

Choy said pan-democrats won eight seats in the functional constituencies, including education, information technology, health services, accountancy, social welfare, medical, legal and architectural, surveying, planning and landscape in 2016.

He said they should target seats in the functional constituencies such as sports, performing arts, culture and publication, catering, engineering and wholesale and retail, to try to boost the number of pro-democracy lawmakers to 36.

In 2016, pro-Beijing candidate Ma Fung-kwok won in the functional constituency-sports, performing arts, culture and publication, with 1,389 votes while pro-democracy candidate Chow Pok-yin got 809 votes.

In the functional constituency-catering, the Liberal Party’s Tommy Cheung won with 2,438 votes while pro-democracy candidate Ng Wing-tak got 647 votes.

In the functional constituency-engineering, Lo Wai-kwok of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong won with 3,906 votes while another pro-establishment candidate, John Luk, had 1,039 votes and pro-democracy candidate Louis Ching got 2,097 votes.

In the functional constituency-wholesale and retail, the Liberal Party’s Shiu Ka-fai won with 2,290 votes while pro-democracy candidate Au Nok-hin got 1,231 votes.

In a recent panel discussion organised by Project Citizens, Au called on pro-democracy supporters to register as voters in the functional constituencies by the deadline on April 2 if they are eligible.

He admitted that new companies might not be able to register as voters as they could not prove that they had been operating for more than a year. However, he said it is worth doing as these companies will be eligible to choose the 1,200 members of the Election Committee in late 2021, while the committee will elect the next Chief Executive in 2022.

Beijing will definitely take action to stop the pro-democracy camp from being able to control the LegCo. In early January, it appointed Luo Huining, the former party chief of Shanxi province, as the new Liaison Office chief.

On February 13, it appointed Xia Baolong, the vice-chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), as the new director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO).

Political analysts said one of the key tasks for Luo and Xia is to make sure that the pro-establishment camp will continue to hold the majority of seats in the LegCo.

However, the pro-establishment camp has so far remained pessimistic about its election campaign.

Holden Chow, a lawmaker of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, wrote in an article on Wednesday that it would be a political disaster if the pro-democracy camp wins a majority of seats in the LegCo and paralyses the government’s operations by rejecting the budget and public projects.

Chow said as it was “very likely” that the pro-democracy camp would control the LegCo, and pro-establishment supporters should take the initiative to register as voters in the functional constituencies by April 2.

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