It’s no secret that Hong Kong’s oldest political party, the Democratic Party, has been witnessing a tussle between the older and younger generations of its members in recent years.
While some party veterans advocate a softer stance in dealing with the government on various issues, the younger elements want a more in-your-face confrontational approach.
The internal differences and conflicts were brought to the fore once again this week as the party debated its response to the Leung Chun-ying administration’s plans for a new airport runway project.
Sin Chung-Kai, a Democratic Party lawmaker and a spokesperson for transport affairs, said on Tuesday that he welcomes the government’s decision to approve the runway as he believes the new facility will be good for Hong Kong people in the future.
However, the comments quickly drew criticism from within the party, with some members wondering if their organization had turned into a pro-government entity.
Henry Chai Man-hon, one of members of the younger generation in the party, said he disagrees with Sin’s view on the new runway, which will cost as much HK$141.5 billion.
“I don’t know why Sin has a different view. Our party last year listed issues that must be resolved before [any new runway] approval… The issues remain unaddressed,” Chai said, adding that he hopes that party members will meet this weekend to come up with a unified view.
Chai was referring to an understanding reached by the party in 2014 that the runway shouldn’t be allowed unless some issues regarding airspace control are resolved first.
Critics of the new runway project say Hong Kong’s air traffic congestion stems from China’s tight control of the national airspace, including the one between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, rather than any shortcomings in the existing airport infrastructure.
Sin declined to comment on Chai’s remarks, merely saying that the latter “has the liberty” to express his opinions.
Sin, who has been labeled as a “government friendly democrat”, believes Hong Kong should work with the mainland authorities to resolve the airspace issue.
Meanwhile, several party members have launched a petition campaign to voice their opposition to the runway project. As of now, at least 30 party members are said to have signed up on the petition.
It marks the latest instance of internal split in the so-called leading opposition party in the city.
Au Nok-hin, a Democratic Party member and a district councilor, said blind support to the government on the planned third airport runway could result in adverse consequences for the party in the district council elections scheduled for November this year.
There are reservations among the public over the project, similar to that seen in relation to a previous government decision on a cross-border high-speed rail link, he said.
He was echoing the feelings of many young colleagues who say the Democratic Party needs to develop critical thinking over several key government policies that stand against the public interest.
The party, on its part, does recognize that it faces some difficult choices.
In the past few years, it has, in fact, been trying to strike a balance and please both younger and mature supporters. But the efforts have not been enough, as the latest internal conflicts show.
Meanwhile, as the party seems reluctant to take on the government boldly, it seems to be losing support among some sections of the public.
Several surveys after the Occupy movement last year have shown that the pan-democrats, especially those from the Democratic Party, have lost support among the public.
Some students have alleged that the Democratic Party sought a free ride on the back of the Occupy protesters, rather than wholeheartedly fight for true universal suffrage on its own.
Now, there is suspicion that the party could change stance at the last minute and support Beijing’s proposal with regard to the 2017 chief executive election.
Albert Ho, a former chairman of the party and a directly-elected lawmaker, announced earlier that he could resign and trigger a by-election for his seat to enable the public to indirectly express its view on Beijing’s political reform package.
But the by-election-cum-referendum plan failed to win the consent of other pan-democrats. Some members argued that the government could resort to some tricks and prevent pan-democrats from winning back the seat.
Clearly, the Democratic Party needs to resolve its internal conflicts and challenges first before it can step up its game against the government in the current complicated political environment.
As the major opposition party, it needs to raise its voice against controversial government policies while still maintaining a good working relationship with the administration and not falling hostage to radical elements.
Overall, the party leadership should bear one thing in mind: Hong Kong people need a strong opposition party willing to stand up to the government and speak out in one voice.
What the city certainly doesn’t need is another pro-Beijing ally.
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