Most of Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers have decided to remain in the legislature and hope to heal the rift with those who wanted to quit, after supporters narrowly backed them serving out their extended terms in an opinion poll.
Nineteen out of 22 pan-democrats will serve out the term which resumes on Thursday, including those who pledged to abide by the poll results and six incumbents holding trade-based functional constituency seats in the Legislative Council.
But veteran lawmaker Tanya Chan of the Civic Party, also a convenor of the opposition bloc, has decided to quit politics altogether, citing health and family reasons.
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Tuesday’s results of the citywide survey marked the end of a two-month dispute over whether opposition lawmakers should remain in the council, after the administration announced in July that September’s election would be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But they will soon face new challenges on how to bridge the rift within the group and block controversial government policies with a weakened force.
There are 65 lawmakers in Legco; 41 in the pro-establishment camp, 22 in the pan-democratic camp, as well as independents Cheng Chung-tai and Pierre Chan.
The results were announced at a press conference, held by opposition lawmakers, and the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, one of the pollsters.
Robert Chung Ting-yiu, the institute’s president, said opinion was divided among the 739 pan-democrats’ supporters they interviewed, out of 2,579 respondents.
According to the poll, 47.1 per cent of supporters wanted lawmakers to continue their term for another year, 45.8 per cent did not, while 7 per cent were neutral.
As the “stay” camp was ahead by 1.3 percentage points, and their support was below the preset threshold of a simple majority, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said the bloc, including all seven incumbents from his party, had made “a very difficult political judgment” to serve out the extended term.
“We believe it is important for us to maintain the battlefront in Legco to fight the tyranny,” said Wu, the bloc’s new convenor. “We will relentlessly block all evil government policies, in hope of slowing down the erosion of freedom in Hong Kong.”
Ally Lam Cheuk-ting said the 19 who decided to stay had set three priorities for the extended term: put pressure on the administration over the plight of 12 Hongkongers fugitives being held in Shenzhen, Guangdong province; block amendments to Legco ordinances to investigate supporters of last year’s anti-government protests; and call for an early resumption of legislative elections.
Lawmakers who remained hoped to open dialogue with the “leave” camp, including Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who earlier decided to quit, and young activists outside the council, Lam said.
“The poll results indicate that we failed to persuade each other with words,” Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said. “We can only be more humble in future and show them the value of staying with our deeds.”
All incumbents in his party will stay except Tanya Chan, who announced her decision to step away from politics through a Facebook post, in which she cited “the long ordeal” of her trial as one of nine Occupy Central activists, and her surgery last year to remove a brain tumour.
“Having quality time with my mother and maintaining good health is my only option now, after 15 years of hectic political life,” she said.
The 19 incumbents who will continue to serve include five from the Professionals Guild, as well as Claudia Mo Man-ching, Leung Yiu-chung and Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung.
Cheng, who did not view himself as a pan-democrat, said he would serve out the term and “fight against dictatorship” in his own way.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said pan-democrats might become more radical as they had to heed the calls of the leave camp.
“[Pan-democrats] might adopt a more confrontational approach towards the government in the council,” Choy said. “They have to prove that they will not betray the democratic supporters.”
The issue of whether to remain for the duration of the extended term has put the opposition in the hot seat ever since the nation’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, approved the local government’s decision on July 31 to delay elections in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fifteen of the council’s 22 pan-democrats, who did not want to quit, sought to resolve the issue by commissioning two independent pollsters to conduct the citywide survey to gauge views from supporters.