SCMP Tuesday, September 12, 2000


Back to basics, vow Democrats


The Democratic Party vowed to start afresh yesterday after suffering a severe setback in the Legislative Council elections. Its share of the vote slipped from 42.6 per cent in the 1998 poll to 34.7 per cent. The 1995 figure was 57.4 per cent.
Surprising election analysts and its rivals, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong overcame the scandal involving key leader Gary Cheng Kai-nam, who won a seat on Hong Kong Island. Its total vote grew from 25.22 per cent in 1998 to 29.68 per cent. In 1995, it had only 15.52 per cent and its chairman, Tsang Yok-sing, lost in what was his first attempt at election.
He said yesterday he had hoped for a 30 per cent vote if not for the Gary Cheng scandal. "It's difficult to predict. So many things have happened in the past two years. You may say it's a surprise." The party won 11 seats - one more than in 1998 - seven in the geographical constituencies.
Democratic Party leader Martin Lee Chu-ming was among 12 Democrats who won a seat in the new Legco - nine in the geographical constituencies. They had 13 in the 1998 Legco.
"The party acknowledges that our connection with the people is loosening. Therefore, we are planning an aggressive 'Listen to the people' campaign. We will be going to the districts so people can come to us and tell us directly what they think, with the purpose of reinforcing the link with the people," he said at a post-election news conference.
"Democracy is a very difficult road. The road is getting harder and harder to walk, three years after the handover."
His deputy Dr Yeung Sum said: "Some of our supporters have not come out because they are disappointed with us. Nor did they want to vote for the DAB, so they didn't vote."
Although the party gained one more geographical seat compared with 1998, a key leader, Lee Wing-tat, lost.
Full results of the second post-handover Legco polls were announced shortly before 1pm yesterday after 14 hours of counting at five stations.
Voter turnout came to 43.6 per cent, with 1.33 million registered voters casting their ballots. Voter turnout in 1998 was 53 per cent. Analysts said the low turnout had benefited the DAB, which was able to mobilise its hardcore supporters during the crisis that followed the Gary Cheng scandal.
Contrary to early forecasts that showed Choy So-yuk might be a casualty of the scandal, the DAB list on Hong Kong Island - where Ms Choy ranked second - polled 72,617 votes, or 27.85 per cent of the vote, dashing the hopes of the Democrats grabbing a third seat in the constituency.
An emotional Ms Choy thanked her supporters after results were announced, bowing to them. Mr Cheng did not turn up at the counting centre and was said to have taken a break outside Hong Kong.
He had been under pressure after being forced to admit last month that he had operated a public affairs consultancy without declaring it to the former legislature. His clients included blue-chip companies and public utilities. He also admitted passing a confidential government document to a business contact, and confessed to an extramarital affair.
The DAB's survival shocked and angered rival candidates and their supporters. As the votes for the Cheng-Choy team were announced, a group of protesters waved banners and chanted slogans condemning the integrity of Mr Cheng.
Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier, who won a seat in New Territories East, said the high vote for the DAB was a disgrace. "The Gary Cheng incident is a serious matter . . . Why do people still vote for the DAB? Do they support such things and think integrity is not important?"
Democrat Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said: "I never dreamed of such a scenario with so many votes for Mr Cheng. What are the DAB supporters thinking of?"
Mr Tsang said a priority was to discuss how to handle the Cheng case. "Now that the election is over, we have to make a decision." Mr Cheng has refused to resign from Legco and an inquiry is likely to be launched when the new session begins next month.
The business-oriented Liberal Party lost a heavyweight in the architectural, surveying and planning constituency. Edward Ho Sing-tin was defeated by Lau Ping-cheung. Its total seats dropped from 10 to eight.
Two Frontier incumbents - Ms Lau and Cyd Ho Sau-lan - returned to the new legislature. Frederick Fung Kin-kee, chairman of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, won a seat after losing in 1998.
There are 21 non-affiliated members, many from functional and Election Committee constituencies.
But the pro-democracy forces are boosted to 18 by including like-minded allies from The Frontier, and unionists Lau Chin-shek, Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Yiu-chung.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa expressed hope yesterday that he could work closely with the new Legco and build up a "good and constructive working relationship". "I will invite the councillors-elect to meetings in groups over the next few weeks. I look forward to exchanging views with them on issues of concern to the community," he said.
Mr Tung thanked the Electoral Affairs Commission and all electoral staff, adding the polls had been conducted in an open, fair and honest manner.