A nasty surprise
Hours after the Legislative Council election results became known, a high-spirited crowd gathered outside Mr Lau Kong-wah's district council office in Sha Tin to "celebrate" his unexpected defeat. Young men and women arrived with snacks and cold beer, sang joyful tunes and partied as if he was the victor, though the sporadic profanity in the evening air clearly suggested otherwise.
Indeed, the vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) has been greeted with a dramatic outpour of mockery from his opponents, as he tries to sort out his next moves to keep himself afloat in the fast-changing political landscape.
It is not just his pro-government stance as a DAB heavy-weight, but his previous association with the pro-democracy camp, that has made Mr Lau so unwelcome by his detractors. Back in 1989, he was a co-founder of the United Democrats of Hong Kong, a pro-democracy group that was the forerunner of the Democratic Party. But he later quit the group and joined the DAB, becoming its vice-chairman in 2005.
Chinese University associate professor Ma Ngok said Mr Lau's decision to cross the political divide to join the other side contributed to the hostility towards him among some young people, who might despise him for being "disloyal" and "untrustworthy".
However, Mr Lau rejected the notion and said his past had enabled him to see both sides of the coin.
"Maybe I need to soften the way I deliver my message, but I will always stand firm on my stance," he said, adding that he considered himself an icon among his party colleagues for having a "clear-cut opinion and stance."
But the icon has fallen in September's LegCo election, when his nearly 199,732 votes placed him sixth among the seven candidates for the district council (second) functional constituency, losing narrowly to Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, whose 228,840 votes snatched him the last seat of the five.
The veteran politician said he was not oblivious to the possibility that he might lose, especially when not a few of his supporters told him they would vote for his party colleagues instead because they thought he would definitely win.
A week before polling day, Mr Lau issued an urgent, city-wide call for support by hanging numerous banners sporting him in a worried look. But the tactic was unable to secure enough votes to return him to the legislature.
Prof Ma said the party's misjudgment and the electoral system might have contributed to his defeat.
The party-list proportional representation system used in the 2012 LegCo election requires that voters vote for a party's list of candidates as a whole. To win a seat, the top candidate on any list has to secure a threshold number of votes, calculated by dividing the number of votes cast across all lists by the number of seats to be filled.
The system, Prof Ma said, made it necessary but difficult for a large political party, like the DAB, to assess the situation and devise tactics to allocate its suporters' votes. As a result, Ms Starry Lee Wai-king, Mr Lau's junior colleague, might have inadvertently steered the so-called "iron votes" of loyal DAB supporters to her with her call for support.
"Everyone thought he'd have no problem winning," DAB party chairman Mr Tam Yiu-chung said, adding that voters might have accidentally hampered Mr Lau's chances by voting for weaker DAB candidates out of sympathy.
Despite Mr Lau's defeat, DAB was a big winner in the election, taking 13 of the 70 seats in the assembly, making it the party with the largest number of seats. "Even though I failed to get that extra seat for the party, I'm nonetheless satisfied with the result," he said.
While Mr Lau may find it easy enough to laugh off the plethora of YouTube parodies and hateful comments, his nearly 200,000 supporters, having seen the Beijing-loyalist in office for 15 years, are not so prepared for his departure from LegCo.
"I often see neighbours that feel sorry for me crying in front of me, saying they cannot accept the election result," Mr Lau said. "And I'll have to cheer them up, sometimes by promising I'll be back in four years."
In fact, Mr Lau said he had not made up his mind whether to run in the next LegCo election. "I promised to run again in order to comfort my supporters," he said.
Rumour has it that Mr Lau would become DAB chief, though he said the party chairman should also be a legislator and he would instead focus on mentoring the party's novice members to prepare for the DAB's future.
By now, the "celebratory" parties outside his office are well over and Mr Lau has resumed his duties as a Sha Tin District Councillor. He hopes that his younger peers who have made it to LegCo would seize the opportunity to work heartily for the people, and that his supporters would be "more mature" in the future.
Reported by Song Cheng
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