23 May 2019
Lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan of the Democratic Party is surrounded by angry protesters during a rally against the copyright amendment bill. Photo: HKEJ
Lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan of the Democratic Party is surrounded by angry protesters during a rally against the copyright amendment bill. Photo: HKEJ

‘If by whiskey’ approach a suicidal strategy for Democrats

As the battle over the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 continues in the Legislative Council, the pan-democrats are doing everything they can to delay the voting on this bill by filibustering.

Meanwhile Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung is tearing his hair out trying to twist the pro-establishment camp’s arm and bring it into line.

At first glance, it appears the government is the single biggest victim of partisan gridlock in Legco, as the amendment bill has been stonewalled over and over again in the legislature and there seems to be no end in sight to the filibusters mounted by the pan-democrats.

With only eight months remaining in Legco’s term of office, the bill will die on the table if it can’t pass the legislature by July.

However, if you look more closely, you may find that the Democratic Party is in fact the biggest loser so far in this filibuster saga.

How so? It is because the flip-flopping of the Democrats over this bill and the cold feet they had about taking part in the filibuster have angered tens of thousands of netizens, who saw the bill as a sinister attempt by the government to tighten its control over freedom of speech on the internet.

The fact that the Democratic Party has antagonized so many netizens might prove its undoing in the upcoming Legco elections, as the cyberworld has become a decisive platform for election campaigns.

In fact, local netizens have every reason to be mad at the Democrats.

Right before the second reading of the copyright bill was going to resume in Legco, Democratic Party heavyweights had vowed that they would not take part in the filibuster spearheaded by People Power, because it was against their ideology to disrupt normal procedures in the legislature.

To make things worse, the party remained vague about its stance over the bill, unlike the Civic Party, which had pledged to vote against it right from the beginning.

However, as public opinion increasingly turned against the bill and the opposition campaign mounted by netizens gradually gathered momentum, the Democrats soon began to feel the heat and quickly rushed to join the filibuster.

Yet when asked whether they were departing from their previously restrained stance toward the bill, leaders of the Democrats said they were only making a judgment call and denied that they were officially committing themselves to the filibuster.

Their pussyfooting raised a lot of eyebrows among their fellow pan-democrats.

The Democrats’ sudden change of stance on the bill and their cold feet about standing up and being counted turned out to be yet another perfect recipe for a PR disaster.

Many Hongkongers believed the party was trying to have it both ways — on one hand showing half-hearted support to the filibuster campaign to please angry netizens but on the other denying its involvement publicly so as not to offend moderate voters — a perfect example of the party’s hypocrisy.

Inevitably, the party’s sudden change of stance on the filibuster backfired and alienated even more netizens.

If anything, the Democrats only had themselves to blame for their embarrassment. In fact it could have been totally avoided if it had not been for their leaders’ indecision, hesitation and political opportunism.

They could have easily won the hearts and minds of those opposed to the bill if they had spelled out their stance clearly on it right from the outset and acted decisively, instead of allowing the situation to subside into a slow-boil, protracted political standoff until they noticed that others had already taken the lead in the opposition campaign.

When they finally made up their mind to ride the tidal wave of public concern about the bill, it was already too late.

The Democratic Party’s fiasco over the copyright bill is not an isolated incident.

Rather, it is just another example of the party’s identity crisis and poor branding strategies.

In the post-Occupy-movement era, radicalism has become the new norm in social movements, and leaders of the Democratic Party have certainly noticed that change in public sentiment.

However, mindful of the danger that radicalization might scare off moderate voters, the party’s chiefs decided that they will have it both ways: riding the tide of political radicalism half-heartedly on selective issues while behaving gently in front of cameras in the Legco chamber and remaining evasive and equivocal on controversial issues so as to retain their moderate support base.

However, this “if by whiskey” approach has proven not to work, because it fails to appeal to either radical or moderate voters.

As a result, the image and ideology of the Democratic Party have become increasingly blurred, and fewer and fewer people today are able to tell what the party really stands for.

Unless leaders of the party can finally make up their mind about how they are going to position themselves in front of voters, it is very likely that their political influence will continue to diminish.

The Occupy movement has led to a political awakening among the public, who will no longer put up with doublespeak by politicians, no matter how well-crafted it is, and expect political parties to take a firm and clear stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be.

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