Which Tsang?

Make no mistake, the results of the recent Legco elections were nothing short of a disaster for the government, the full scale of which will only become apparent in the weeks and months ahead. They could also have a major bearing on the outcome of next March’s election for chief executive. The Liaison Office and Beijing have much food for thought.

Start with the pre-election scenario. The administration hoped that lingering public anger over the disruption caused by Occupy and the excessive filibustering in the council would provoke a backlash among voters. "Vote them out" was the call from senior officials. The thinking was that pro-administration forces would gain a majority in the geographical constituencies, thus removing the obstacles to important legislation and reform of the council’s procedures. In a best case scenario, the opposition would win fewer than 24 seats and lose its blocking one third veto.

The strategy, coordinated by the Liaison Office, was comprehensive and multi-faceted: retain all 24 of the pro-administration seats in the 30 traditional Functional Constituencies (FCs), and make strenuous efforts to pick off one or two of the opposition seats (IT and Accountancy were targeted); whittle down further the opposition share of the vote in geographic seats, which had already slipped from 60 per cent to 55 in recent years, to equal shares so that the 18-17 division could be flipped round the other way; and through superior organisation and strategic voting turn the 2-3 deficit among the five super seats into a 3-2 majority.

The strategy failed on every count. Among the traditional FCs, 12 were retained unopposed (a scandal in itself) but two formerly safe pro-administration seats were lost for the first time (Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape; Medical) and all the opposition seats were retained, with increased majorities for the incumbents in the two target seats. So the 24-6 pro administration majority was reduced to 22-8. In the geographic constituencies and the five super seats, the opposition share of the vote increased to 58 per cent, almost back to the 60 per cent of old. As a result, the 3-2 split of the super seats was comfortably retained and the opposition majority among the geographic constituencies increased from 18-17 to 19-16. Overall, the pro-government 43-27 majority was reduced to 40-30.

Nor do the bare numbers tell the full story. Although the pro-government share of the vote slipped only slightly, there was a radical change in the composition of the opposition. Those advocating a much more HK-centric line – localists, self-determinants, independence supporters, call them what you will – captured fully 20 per cent of the popular vote, mostly at the expense of the traditional pan-democrats, and now hold six seats in the 70-member chamber. The blue ribbon versus yellow ribbon feud was a no contest event. All of the former melted at the polls while several high profile participants in the Occupy Movement were returned with many tens of thousands of votes. For example, Nathan Law came second on Hong Kong Island, with over 50,000 votes spread across all polling stations including the Peak. It has since been estimated that at least 300,000 supporters of the opposition camp voted strategically to maximise their impact on poll results.

The people of Hong Kong have spoken loudly and clearly: they are not happy with developments over the last few years and want the "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy" formula implemented properly. The ultra hard line, as represented by the White Paper of 31 August 2014 and the woeful political reform package, was emphatically rejected.

At a seminar in Baptist University on Mid-Autumn Festival eve, moderator Professor Jean-Pierre Cabestan suggested a one-word summary of the election results might be "Resistance". Many attendees thought the results meant the end of the road for chief executive Leung Chun Ying as Beijing would think twice before imposing such a divisive figure on the local community for another four years. The popular view was that he was "past his sell-by date". I think such a conclusion would be premature and contains a degree of wishful thinking. The Party does not "do" weakness and they might be just as inclined to circle the wagons, retain CY in the top job and leave the management of Legco to a more conciliatory chief secretary if such can be found.

Another option might be to pause and allow one or two other acceptable names to float in public to gauge public reaction. Two of them share the same surname. One of them appeared to be distancing himself from a controversial government decision last week, albeit for only a few hours. The Party does not do dissent either, which could leave the way clear for the other. Step forward Jasper Tsang Yok Sing.