Why former democrats want to be in Beijing's good graces

September 29, 2015 16:00
Third Side (inset), launched on the first anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, wants to push for direct dialogue with Beijing. Photos: HKEJ, Sing Pao

A year ago, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people took to the streets to press their demand for genuine universal suffrage. The campaign failed to realize its goal.

A year after the campaign, several moderate elements from the pan-democratic camp have decided to take a less confrontational approach to achieve the same end.

They want to reopen communication lines with central authorities, noting that last year's civil disobedience movement only managed to damage the mutual trust between Beijing and Hong Kong.

Will they succeed? Is kowtowing to Beijing the only way out for the opposition to end the "cold war" between Hong Kong democrats and central government officials?

On Monday, on the first anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, a new political organization called the Third Side was launched by moderate democrats to push for direct dialogue with Beijing on the issue of true universal suffrage under the "one country, two systems" framework.

The group was founded by former Democratic Party veterans Tik Chi-yuen and Nelson Wong Sing-chi, with the support of property agent and free newspaper boss Shih Wing-ching.

Wong was expelled from the party earlier this year while Tik quit because of differences over the Beijing-dictated political reform bill, which was voted down in the Legislative Council.

As both Tik and Wong have been long-time politicians in the northern part of the New Territories, while Shih, as owner of the am730 newspaper, has the deep pocket to support them, it is believed that the group will participate in the Legislative Council by-election for the New Territories East geographical constituency following the resignation of Ronny Tong Ka-wah effective next month.

The by-election is expected to take place within six months after the effectivity of Tong's resignation, which means the by-election could be held in April, giving the Third Side enough time to prepare for the contest and exchange fire with both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps.

The Third Side, as its name implies, seeks to offer to the electorate a third force that is somewhere between the Beijing loyalists and the radical democrats.

If Hong Kong were an independent political entity, such middle-of-the-road option can help win over the so-called silent majority.

But the reality is that the city's political structure has been so distorted by the central authorities that it has become almost impossible for any group to maintain a moderate stance.

Why do democrats still enjoy huge support in terms of votes in the city-wide election?

It's mainly because Hong Kong people still hesitate to embrace Beijing's rule given the Communist Party's track record of going back on its commitments.

The democrats are playing a major role not only in monitoring the Hong Kong government, but also in looking at how Beijing implements its commitment to the "one country, two systems" principle in the territory.

However, Tik and Wong seem to blame the Democratic Party's insistence that Beijing should follow the "one country, two systems" principle for its failure to move Hong Kong's political development forward.

And so these so-called moderate democrats have started to agree with Beijing on its political reform framework in a bid to win the trust of the top leaders. 

They forget the importance of open, transparent and fair electoral system for Hong Kong.

Now, they are urging the government to appoint them as officials by riding on their local community support.

In effect, they appear to be more interested in pushing their own political ambitions rather than the whole democratic movement of Hong Kong.

In a letter formalizing his resignation from the Democratic Party, Tik admitted his dreams are different from those of the party. He also said he attended the grand military parade in Beijing on Sept. 3.

Through his actions, Tik believes that Beijing officials, out of the goodness of their hearts, will grant genuine universal suffrage to Hong Kong if only democrats turn loyal to Beijing.

As a pro-Beijing politician, Tik could be playing a key role by tapping the votes of former supporters of the pan-democratic camp in the upcoming elections, in a bid to reduce their influence in the Legislative Council.

The formation of the Third Side, as well as other new organizations, could lead to the “likely break-up of the pan-democratic movement”, as retired political professor Michael DeGolyer said recently.

He also believes that the distrust caused by the Occupy protests between the pan-democrats and mainland leaders will take years to fix.

But before democrats start talking with Beijing, they should make sure that their demand for genuine universal suffrage will not waver.

Otherwise, they will just fall into Beijing's trap and become the "loyal opposition camp".

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EJ Insight writer