22 January 2019
Lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who is quitting the Civic Party, sits alone in the Legco chamber amid "X" signs put up by his pan-democratic colleagues. Cracks in the unity of the opposition is a big worry. Photo:
Lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who is quitting the Civic Party, sits alone in the Legco chamber amid "X" signs put up by his pan-democratic colleagues. Cracks in the unity of the opposition is a big worry. Photo:

Beware of widening cracks in the pro-democracy camp

The pan-democratic camp’s victory in blocking the passage of the 2017 election bill is but a pyrrhic one.

The next chief executive will still be chosen by a small circle of Beijing lackeys, and the only difference is that his governance won’t be legitimized by a fake popular vote.

Things can turn out to be grim when the government, after years of experimenting, has become well-versed in the art of political intrigue.

The government’s new scheme is becoming clear. 

The idea is to eliminate the moderates and further agitate the extremists in the pro-democracy camp. As a result, middle-of-the-roaders may switch sides when they see a more radical confrontation.

The ultimate goal is to change the long-existing 6:4 proportion of democracy voters versus government supporters.

Those in authority know well that once the moderate approach fails, the radical wing will surely dominate the fight.

But this faction is particularly prone to all sorts of blunders, leading the general public to lose faith.

The swift police action that smashed a bomb plot earlier this month still fails to address widespread suspicion that the government may be the mastermind behind the conspiracy.

Apart from the many dubious facts already reported by the media about the case, I find it hard to understand why these suspects, having enough weapons to cause mayhem in the city, would simply let themselves be rounded up by the police without putting up the slightest resistance.

Still, the government’s plot to break the cohesion of the various factions within the pan-democratic camp may indeed lead to a faster transfer of leadership to the younger generation, along with the shift of focus from abstract concepts like democracy to more concrete issues related to localism.

But the gravest concern comes from within the camp itself.

It is my observation that various factions possess little differences as regards their political demands yet they all harbor deep, preconceived ideas against their own allies.

One such divergence is in the approach and strategy for future movements.

Some have been insisting that priority must be given to settling internal disputes before fending off external challenges. In other words, they are more obsessed with internal strife among teammates than their solidarity against common external foes.

Some observers have already pointed out that the swift rise of localism and other schools of thought started in last year’s Occupy movement, and subsequent protests against mainland parallel traders and moves to quit the Hong Kong Federation of Students have lent extra momentum.

Sadly, instead of exploring common grounds, these activists chose to let their noisy quarrels over tactics usurp the main theme of the struggle. Sometimes, the leaders themselves participate in the infighting.

They are indeed playing into Beijing’s hands; their actions have obviously dampened the morale of many supporters.

Apart from constitutional reform, the old faction mainly talk about press freedom and China’s democratic development, while the new wing’s concerns range from the mainland individual visit scheme, new immigrants and parallel goods trading to the police’s excessive use of force. There’s little intersection between the two.

In my previous columns I noted that we didn’t have to worry too much about cracks in the pan-democratic camp. But now it appears that the way old-line and younger democrats and localists treat each other may have crossed the bottom-line.

Under Leung Chun-ying, the SAR government has become more repressive in its stance against pro-democracy movements. The situation requires us to coordinate our tactics.

Sometimes we unite and sometimes we take our own initiatives to move forward.

But first we must present a united front.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 18.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Police officers stand outside the Legislative Council complex during the voting on the government’s political reform package. Photo: Bloomberg

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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