20 February 2019
Albert Ho is being criticized by his Democratic Party allies for the timing of his planned resignation from Legco. Photo: HKEJ
Albert Ho is being criticized by his Democratic Party allies for the timing of his planned resignation from Legco. Photo: HKEJ

Pan-democrats need to get their act together

It didn’t take long for Albert Ho to get criticized by some of his Democratic Party allies after he announced on Friday that he plans to resign from the Legislative Council to trigger a proxy referendum over political reform.

At issue is timing and his true intentions. Ho plans to quit the chamber after a political reform proposal that will determine the conduct of future Hong Kong elections is put to a vote.

Given that the measure is likely to be defeated, many in Legco including some in his own pan-democrat camp, doubt the wisdom and effectiveness of Ho’s plan.

Why try to influence an outcome after the fact? What’s the real reason for such action?

Democratic Party chief Emily Lau said the best way Ho could get voters to express their views on the reform package and try to win concessions from the government is to quit before it is voted down by pan-democrats, not after.

In fact, a Legco resignation that produces such a scenario has been in the playbook of pan-democrats and their allies who want to ride the momentum of the recent pro-democracy street protests.

But Ho’s plan is off-script, which explains why it’s not being embraced by his own party and being derided by Beijing loyalists as a waste of time.

Worse, it’s putting his intentions into question.

Some observers say the whole idea is not about political reform but the district council elections in November.

If Ho resigns before the summer break, a by-election could take place in the third quarter, about the time of the district elections, early enough to take advantage of the momentum from the democracy protests.

That could mean more seats for pan-democrats.

In that sense, the by-election is a strategy to win in district elections, rather than any real attempt to relaunch the political reform process and push back against Beijing’s preferred method of choosing Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017.

Even for political expedience, many pan-democrats don’t think Ho’s plan is worth the trouble.

For instance, who will run for the seat he will vacate?

Under the rules, Ho cannot contest the same seat, but it is critical for pan-democrats and their supporters to fill the vacancy with one of their own.

They can turn to student luminaries and some young democracy activists such as Denise Ho to keep something they already have.  

That aside, the most crucial issue is timing.

Nothing will change the facts if, as expected, the election reform proposal is rejected by Legco, so Ho needs to time his planned exit when it’s able to achieve the desired results of a proxy referendum.

The last time we had such a scenario was in 2010 when five legislators from the Civic Party and League of Social Democrats quit over the 2012 chief executive election framework.

At that time, the Democratic Party refused to support the move. Still, more than 580,000 voted in the by-elections which the pan-democrats used as a referendum to force concessions from the government. 

Pan-democrats should show their commitment to Hong Kong democracy by working out every detail of their political strategy.

If they want to fight the real battle, they need to set aside party and individual interests.

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EJ Insight writer

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