For its 23rd anniversary, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) went low key.
In a manner of speaking, that is.
After all, having Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and top Beijing honcho Zhang Xiaoming raise a toast at its dinner on Monday wasn’t exactly self-effacing, although their presence had been expected.
There were the customary handshakes and speeches and the pro-Beijing media enthused about a “joyful” gathering.
But this time, no hat was passed around. No fundraising.
Contrast that with last year’s event which hauled in a record HK$68.38 million (US$8.82 million) including HK$13.8 million from Shimao Property chairman Hui Wing-mau for a calligraphy by Zhang.
And when Zhang performed a song, he drew HK$11 million in donations to the party.
None of this should come as a surprise.
DAB is the Hong Kong proxy of the Communist Party, perhaps second only in importance to Leung, its handpicked administrator.
Does the party even need these fundraisings?
Probably not, but all the same, it likes to wheel out its financial backers at special events such as anniversaries, whether or not it taps them for cash on the spot.
With such powerful financiers, DAB has a secure future as a political enterprise.
What’s less certain is its viability as a force in the Legislative Council where it dominates the pro-Beijing bloc with 13 seats.
The test will come when District Council and Legco seats go up for grabs this year and next.
(The decision to forgo the fundraising this year might have been due to the fact the elections are only months away and the DAB did not want to create any appearance of impropriety.)
DAB needs to win grassroots support and keep the business sector firmly in its corner if it wants to maintain its sway in the legislative process.
Leung subtly challenged new chairman Starry Lee and her cohorts by saying he hoped the DAB could continue to help him “improve governance”.
Despite the embarrassing defeat last month of the Beijing-designed election reform bill, which exposed the party’s Achilles heel, there’s no sign it has lost favor with the communist leadership.
But maybe now it will be more conscious about its status — and usefulness — as a political lever for Beijing.
It’s no secret Beijing wants the DAB to become Hong Kong’s ruling party, even though it already controls the government and the election process.
But the party has to show it stands for something, rather than simply being a Beijing lackey.
There’s no shortage of issues to test its mettle.
Perhaps the most contentious is the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, a cross-border pet project which is three years behind schedule and HK$20 billion overbudget.
Hong Kong taxpayers are feeling the pain of this gargantuan expenditure but establishment lawmakers including those from the DAB have merrily gone along with it for political expedience.
When they could have flagged a potential white elephant as early as five years ago, they chose to stay quiet.
Pan-democrats saw it coming and pointed out several trouble spots but the DAB and other loyalists which together control the chamber went ahead with the required legislation anyway.
Now Hong Kong has an HK$85 billion albatross around its neck.
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