Down To The Wire

Hong Kong Election Diary–Part 3

Live Blogging of the 2008 Hong Kong LEGCO Election. To read in chronological order, start at the end of the post and work back.

3:54am- Leung Kwok Hung wins re-election to LEGCO!!

The Victory Lap


It’s official. He’s won. And so has Wong Yuk Man. I’m not gonna wait up for the final vote count. I’ll leave you with a picture of the terrific woman who took control of the Long Hair campaign in the crisis stage, and worked overtime to bring it to victory: Chan Po-ying. Gung hei Cheung Mo! Gung Hei Po Ying!

And goodnight, all.

3:36-Okay, I’m getting annoyed now.

The TVB and NOW TV reporters have been interviewing a long string of dullards, talking heads and also rans. I’ve seen two interviews already with Wong Shing Chi. Why aren’t the networks jumping on one of tonight’s huge stories–Long Hair grabbing the largest share of the democratic vote in his district. A guy who, just a week or so ago, was supposed to lose his seat!

Every commentator is droning on about the decline of the pan-democrats. Yet the League of Social Democrats, a completely new party, is set to get three seats in this new legislature.

Are we really moaning about the decline of the democrats, or the inept politics of the Civic Party?

They seem like the big losers tonight, to me. On Hong Kong island, they thought they would easily be able to win two seats, and so they ran two of their biggest vote getters on the same ticket. But they didn’t get enough votes, and lost Audrey Eu’s seat. In NT East, high-flying helicopter guy Ronny Tong looks like he will just scrape by.

And they still haven’t called the seat for Long Hair yet….

3:26-Leung is at 12.8 percent of the vote and the TV stations are still not calling the race for him

What’s up with this?

They’ve called seat number #2 for DAB hack Chan Hak-kan

3:07-41,153 votes

This is strange. The NOW TV graphic has put a red circle next to Long Hair’s name, signifying he’s won his seat with 11.69 % of the vote. But they haven’t put his picture in the little empty seat at the bottom of the screen.

3:01am–NOW TV’s cool graphics

show Long hair with more than 11 percent of the vote.

Check the very cute empty LEGCO chairs at the bottom of the screen!

Andrew To has fallen behind, alas.

2:29am– The DAB’s lead candidate, Lau Gong Wah

has won the first seat in NT East District.  Six more seats to go. Long Hair is in line for the next one–he’s still holding a strong second place with 33,146 votes. 

Barring some very strange and unexpected turn of events, he’ll retain his seat in LEGCO.

1:51 am: 19,445

Leung is back in second place again, behind Lau Gong Wah. Could Long Hair end up as the #1 democratic vote-getter?!

The NOW Broadband TV election night graphics are much better than TVB. When the tallies change, the numbers flip like the board at the airport

1:40am–Leung Kwok Hung, 14,558

and Wong Shing Chi, 14,559. Talk about a slim margin!

So far Leung and Wong are the two top pro-democracy vote-getters.

I’m flashing back to last winter when I was talking to Long Hair about the election, and he was saying how he expected the majority of the pro-democrats in his district to vote for Ronny Tong. I told him he shouldn’t believe that. Ha! I should have asked him to put money on it.

Outside of the New Territories East district, I’m watching the tallies for my buddy Andrew To (To Kwan Hang) in Kowloon East. He’s battling for the fourth seat. As I came home just now, I discovered that my night doorman, Mr. Poon, cast his vote for Andrew. Mr. Poon used to support the Federation of Trade Unions, but he has no use for them because they haven’t given enough support to the fight for minimum wage in HK.

If Andrew pulls off an upset, that would be very cool.

1:33am–The latest total: 11,667!

Long Hair is holding strong in third place, behind the DAB’s Lau Gong Wah and rival dem Wong Shing Chi. (Long Hair and Wong have been trading for second place all night)

Another surprise: Liberal Party chairman James Tien is low man on the totem pole! He may lose his seat.

The number to keep in mind is 60,425. That is the total vote Long Hair received when he won in 2004.

12:48am–I am superstitious about being overly optimistic

But, damn! The earliest hard results show Long Hair in third place, with a 30% share of the vote, behind the DAB candidate and Wong Shing Chi.

Okay…these are very, very early results, just a couple of thousand voters tallied.

Still, the trending looks good.

11pm-I call Leung to tell him the news about the poll

He’s already heard. He sounds exhausted, but calm. “Whichever way it goes, I’m okay. I’m not going to wait around for the result. I’m going home to get some rest.”

Sounds like a good time for me to go get something to eat. I will check back in later.

10:40–The Polls Close, and NOW TV NEWS is showing

a very cool graphic that shows the head shots of the candidates in each district that “gaau yauh gei wuih dong syun”–“Most Likely Chance to Win Election”. These are the preliminary results of the HKPOP exit poll.

They’re flashing five faces and two empty chairs for New Territories East district:
Wong Sing Chi, Leung Kwok Hung, Cheng Ka Foo, Lau Gong Wah and Chan Hak Kan

That means they think that Long Hair is in the top five votegetters!? With more votes than Ronny Tong from the Civic Party? That would be amazing, and unexpected.

I wonder if the clash with the DAB goons this afternoon won Long Hair a last minute sympathy vote? As a fellow “victim” of the DAB’s shameless behavior, that would make me feel very, very happy.

It’s funny, how these voting patterns can come down to a last minute event. Last election day, Long Hair told me, he accidentally bumped into James Tien while campaigning. Long Hair said he wanted to do something that had impact, and was seized by an inspiration when he found an uneaten banana in his backpack.

He confronted Tien in the famous banana incident (Mr. Tien, do you know the price of a banana in the market!?). And that moment, he thinks, clinched the election for him.

10:21–How do you say Shameless in Cantonese?

(answer: 無恥  mouh chi)

While we were fighting the “Battle of Sai Kung”, Long Hair was getting stomped by DAB goons in Tai Po.

9:54–Francis sends me an SMS: “Poll Not Indicative”

He’s sitting amongst a bunch of reporters and number crunchers in the main election press center in Kowloon Bay, so I’m going to figure his opinion represents the general wisdom.

9:30pm–Ming Pao has released some results of its private exit polls

These are the infamous exit polls sponsored by a handful of media. They are releasing selective results, without figu
res, as of 8pm.

According to the Ming Pao news flash, both Long Hair and Emily Lau are losing their seats in New Territories East. But then how does that work out? That would mean the DAB gets two seats, Civic Party’s Ronny Tong and Democrat Cheng Ka Foo each get one, James Tien gets one, and where do the remaining 2 seats go?

Possibilities: One to Democrat Wong Shing Chi, and the other to independent pro-Beijing stealth candidate Scarlett Pong?

But that would be odd, since Pong has polled consistently low in all the other surveys so far.

Long Hair just phoned to thank us for the support today. He’s on his way to Ma On Shan.

The turnout figures are really low so far–36.66 percent of eligible voters have voted so far. Less than an hour left until polls close.

9pm–In The Final Hours, I Become a Human Billboard

Wearing the latest in Sai Kung headwear fashion (a steal at 9 Hong Kong dollars, or $1.10 US!) I ditch the wordy Long Hair leaflets and embrace the role of human billboard.

After a certain point, it isn’t about reasoning or logic anymore: it’s about market presence.


Ha…the Civic Party really doesn’t believe in a ground game at all. On NOW Broadband TV I just saw a clip of Ronnie Tong, the CP candidate in New Territories East, dropping into his district on election day in a helicopter. Oh, and he was accompanied by Anson Chan. Guess now that she’s retired from LEGCO she’s joined the Civic Party.

While the DAB spends its bucks on lunch boxes, the Civic Party blows the bank on airfare.

6:40pm–Sussing out the competition

I’m back home now, after several hours canvassing. After finishing up in Sai Kung at around 3pm, I went down to Hang Hau station to join another group of Long Hair supporters there. There were about 8 or 10 of us, and the situation was quite different. The DAB had fewer people there (even though the area is more populated and the station is busier), and they were actually pretty mellow, sharing space with our band under a broad, shady tree. The DAB’s hardcore supporters live in New Territories villages (like Sai Kung) and there’s more political diversity in urbanized “new towns” like Hang Hau.

The big action on the ground at Hang Hau was James Tien’s group, the Liberal Party. They had about 75 supporters, lots of bright yellow flats and banners emblazoned with the number 1, and–around 5pm–James Tien himself, rolling up in a caravan led by a bright orange Morris sports car. (Tien, famously, collects expensive sports cars. Election day seems like a bad moment to remind people about this.)

Once again, my totally un-scientific anecdotal observations:
1. The two big on-ground presences here on election day are the DAB and Tien’s Liberal Party. One has the bodies, the other has the bucks.
2. The Democratic Party is missing in action in this Eastern part of the district–probably they decided to marshal their forces at two or three central locations and skip the outlying areas. Still, I haven’t seen many banners for them along the roadsides at all.
3.Ditto the Civic Party. They splashed out on slick-looking backlit ads in the MTR, and on taxis, but they’re nowhere to be seen at the ground level.
4. Finally, I only saw two supporters of Emily Lau, and one banner all day.

Long Hair’s ground game is pretty good, considering his budget. We’ve got a band of supporters at all the major stations–Tai Po, Shatin, Tseun Kwan O, Hang Hau and Sheung Seui. Thanks to last-minute volunteers like William, we were able add a station in  Sai Kung. I’d say we’ve got good presence today, and that we are number three in the ground game after DAB and Liberal Party.

Does playing the ground game make a difference in votes? It seems like the Civic Party doesn’t think so. Perhaps they just figure the DAB is going to control the streets on election day, or maybe they decided to concentrate on Hong Kong Island, where the race for the second seat is close. Another possibility is that they think their middle class and upper class voter base doesn’t need the extra boost of banners and bodies at the last minute.

Whatever. I think they’re wrong. Hong Kong elections aren’t yet at the stage where you can do a media campaign and neglect the street.

6pm. The Battle of Sai Kung and the Politics of Meanness

When we get to Sai Kung around 10:30 the plaza outside the Wellcome supermarket is a sea of DAB banners. Every tree, every post, every available space is covered with huge posters and flags featuring the rigid grins of DAB candidates Lau Kong Wah and Chan Hak-kan. Loud speeches from the candidates blast from a loudhailer.

There are three of us Long Hair supporters, and we have exactly two “flats”–that’s what they call the tall banners that roll up out of a box like a window shade–and three tattered bamboo-pole Long Hair flags. We face more than 150 troops from the DAB, the Man Gihn Lyun, who are occupying every bench, and hogging the shade of every tree, stretching for about fifty feet on each side of the busy market entrance.

I’d always heard about the DAB’s legendary troops of “iron voters” who appear on polling day. But this is the first time I’d seen their organization first hand, and the only way I can describe it is mean and creepy. Most of the DAB people in their turquoise vests are on the other side of 60, the kind of ladies who wield their sharpened elbows when you’re trying to get on the bus, and who will haggle with you in the market over a couple of pennies.

The sun is wickedly hot, and just as I’m looking around wondering how to claim a small area for our Long Hair ioutpost in this sea of hostility, a bright young fellow with a spiky haircut approaches me. It’s William, who found Long Hair through his Facebook page and called out of the blue to volunteer today. Right now he seems like an angel from heaven: We were three against an army, and now we are four.

We base ourselves at an outside table at the Starbucks (thank you, Starbucks, for your support of Long Hair!) and put up one of the big flats just outside the coffeeshop, at the busy intersection of a side street and the main street, that has no DAB posters.

Almost immediately, four rather large DAB women come over and surround us, blocking the view of our poster. They stand shoulder to shoulder in a phalanx, preventing us from greeting the passersby.

I’m angry enough to explode, and that’s not usually my style. I shout at the women, sarcastically, in Cantonese, “Well, I’m so glad to see so many supporters of Long Hair out here today by his banner!”.

They look a bit shocked, then pretend not to hear me. Three more supporters, meanwhile, have dragged another DAB banner and put it right next to ours. I am without words, I’m so annoyed, but don’t quite know what to do–I don’t want things to get nasty.

David, meanwhile, is sussing out the territory. He locates the Sai Kung polling station, in the old town hall down at the end of the street. There’s an empty space we can work from, located just before the cut-off zone where no political activity is allowed. It is a great position, we’ll have the last contact with people before they enter the polling station. But it’s got zero shade, and is totally exposed to the blazing sun.

We take it anyway, and work under the hot sun. I run to the market and buy a cheap straw hat. Meanwhile we hold onto our position by Starbucks, and split into two groups of two.

I work with David. When I finally start to speak with people, and hand out folders, the mood lifts. Things get better. Once again, about one in ten people seem pleased to see a representative of Cheung Mo. The “see” is the main thing here, I realize. We are down to the sta
ge where the election isn’t about thought or ideas, it is about branding and product placement. The fact that we are here, holding the signs that say number “5” (our poll position) and wearing the colors, is what matters.

As I get into a rhythm of passing leaflets, I’m able to observe the opposition more closely. Although they seemed formidable when we arrived, I realize they’re not very effective. The very meanness that allows them to grab all the spots and push and shove the other candidates to the side affects their ability to mingle with and influence the public. People are mostly running away from these squadrons of unpleasant ladies who thrust flyers in the nose of anybody going by. They are a terrible advertisement for their “product”.

And, thankfully, it turns out they don’t have much stamina. At around 12:15, the ranks of DAB soldiers begin to thin, and by 1pm, they are at a third of their original strength. Why? It’s time for their free lunch, of course.

Just before the call for faan haap, a small bus pulls up to the curb beside where David and I are handing the leaflets. Some of the most elderly and infirm people I have ever seen in Hong Kong begin, excruciatingly slowly, to descend the bus steps, helped by some of the DAB volunteers. I see a lady, who looks more than 80 years old, bent in two by osteoporosis, clutching a card in her hand that shows her where to mark the “X” for the DAB. I try to look into her eyes, but they are cloudy with cataracts.

On the arm of a DAB worker, under the blazing middday sun, she hobbles towards the polling station.

I’d been hearing about this for years, and now in Sai Kung, I’m seeing it with my own eyes.
This is the “iron vote” of the DAB.

9am. And so it begins…

The polls just opened in Hong Kong, and I have just rolled out of bed. I’ll be heading up to Sai Kung with David and Sally in an hour or so, to pass out leaflets for Long Hair. “There’s not much you can do at this point,” Long Hair waxed philosophically to me last night, over a couple of beers at Club 71. “Not many people are going to be changing their minds about who they’re voting for at this point. I’ve done my best, and now its up to the people to decide.”

It’s still close in the New Territories East legislative council district–Leung Kwok Hung, Emily Lau, and Wong Sing Chi, all candidates from the Hong Kong pan-Democrat camp, are battling it out. One of them, perhaps two, will lose.

But I’m optimistic. I’m no statistician, but I have been working as a volunteer on the ground for Mr. Hair for the last three days, in Sai Kung, Hang Hau and Tai Po, which is a pretty good cross section of the sprawling NT East district. I’ve noticed a pattern when I hand out the flyers to the passers-by. About 40 percent of them just walk by, eyes averted. Some are tethered to their mobile phones or to electronic media, others appear drugged or dog-tired, lost in a daze. I figure these are the people who aren’t interested in politics and won’t be going to vote at all.

The majority people smile politely and take the leaflet. Some of them already have a collection of other parties’ election propaganda (we leaflet-handers jockey for position outside the MTR exits). Occasionally (about one in every 15 people) I will get a strong negative reaction to the “Long Hair” brand. By strong negative I mean this: One guy in Hang Hau actually took the folder, tore it ceremoniously in two, and then threw it on the ground and stomped on it.

But roughly one out of every eight people gives me an extra energetic smile, and a hearty “Way! Cheung Mo!”. I figure these people will probably be voting for Long Hair.

So, based on my rough calculations, one out of every 8 citizens in NT East is a Long Hair supporter. That is roughly 12% of the vote–he only needs 10% to win back his seat.

My totally un-scientific calculation is buttressed by another observation. Yesterday, while handing leaflets out in Sai Kung with Long Hair, we all chuckled as the motor-caravan for the Liberal Party candidate James Tien roared by our little outpost. Tien, a tycoon, had two snazzy vehicles and a big shiny yellow bus full of paid operatives. The loud sound system from the bus playing Tien’s speech drowned out our ragtag band of Long Hair supporters when it passed. We laughed, waited till they passed, and then got back to work.

Then, suddenly, I spotted a man dressed in pressed bermuda shorts and a white Lacoste polo shirt racing towards Long Hair from behind. He looked like a Sai Kung businessman on his way to play a few rounds of tennis. But it wasn’t a Sai Kung tennis player–it was James Tien himself.

He had spotted Leung and jumped out of his caravan. Tien raced up to Leung from behind, then–before Long Hair had a moment to realize what was happening– the Liberal Party chairman ambushed him in a bear hug from behind. Two press photographers suddenly materialized to catch the meeting of two long-time rivals–just as Tien had planned. Tien held Long Hair in a bear hug grip for a while, and whispered something into his ear.

What did he say to you?, I asked Long Hair later. He chuckled. “He thanked me for attacking him during the election. He said he got a lot of press from that, and it was all because of me.”

The fact that even Long Hair’s enemies gravitate to him like a heat-seeking missile during the campaign season says more about his chances for success than any number of polls. The South China Morning Post has an article today that says that last minute voters are choosing familiar candidates, and that people are voting for personalities, not ideology or issues. Long Hair in the last four years has consistently polled in the top ten of Hong Kong’s “best known” legislators. His charisma, which he has in abundance (and which his two major rivals have in negative numbers) will probably carry him over the finish in an election season that, issue wise, has not been about much.

That’s my prediction. And now, I’m running back up to Sai Kung to hand out leaflets. Here’s a little marching music to take you to the polls:

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