After presenting itself as a moderate voice in the heated debate over electoral reform in Hong Kong, the Democratic Party is changing tack — it now wants a public nomination model with no strings attached.
The shift is a gain for the Occupy Central Movement and other hardliners which are demanding nothing less than universal suffrage, or what they euphemistically call genuine democracy, for the next chief executive election in 2017.
But it’s a loss for moderate groups that are trying to find a way around major sticking points with Beijing. The National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, is expected to decide the final election mechanism during its annual session scheduled for next month. Beijing prefers a screening model for choosing candidates along patriotic lines.
What drove the Democratic Party’s change of heart?
Unraveling political calculations is always tricky, but in this instance, it’s easy to see how the recent informal referendum on electoral reform which drew 780,000 voters and the record July 1 march (510,000-strong, according to organizers) might have influenced the decision.
If these two factors did influence the decision, the Democratic Party made the switch for political expedience.
The party realized it could not tap into the wellspring of popular sentiment sparked by the massive show of force by staying in the middle. It had to go one way or the other, but even its predictable decision to jump into bed with the hardliners is strange to many, despite the democrats’ past experience.
In 2010, senior party members met with officials from Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong to discuss the 2011/12 election. The move drew fierce criticism from pro-democracy supporters which accused the Democratic Party of bowing to Beijing on an election plan they considered unfair.
The Democratic Party has six seats in the Legislative Council. In the past few months, the party has vacillated between full and qualified support in the fight for true democracy.
In one instance, it said public nomination should not be a requirement for a moderate proposal for a three-track model — civil nomination, political party nomination and nomination by a nominating committee — advanced by Alliance for Democracy, an umbrella group of scholars and pan-democrats.
The Democratic Party also rejected a proposal by legislator Leung Kwok-hung (Long Hair) for a mass Legco resignation to force the issue.
That sparked more criticism from pro-democracy groups which questioned the party’s commitment to political reform.
Now, by going to the extreme and embracing Occupy Central’s hard line, the Democratic Party is perhaps hoping to cut itself some slack.
But whether the move will serve its wider political objectives and win back supporters remains to be seen. As a veteran political party, it should play a role in strengthening Hong Kong’s political development, not weakening it.
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