Why DAB will want Starry Lee at helm regardless of DC result

November 19, 2019 19:03
Starry Lee is expected to stay on as DAB chairperson even if the pro-Beijing party suffers a big defeat in the upcoming district council election. Photo: CNSA

Back in 2003, the opposition camp swept to a landslide victory in the District Council elections, thanks to a surge in pro-democracy sentiment among voters in the wake of the government's controversial attempt to introduce a national security law.

As a result, the then chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, had to resign, taking responsibility for his party’s catastrophic defeat.

Intriguingly, after 16 years, the DAB now appears to find itself caught in the same unpleasant situation amid the ongoing anti-government protests. This has led to widespread speculation in political circles as to whether the pro-Beijing party's incumbent chairwoman, Starry Lee Wai-king, might end up like Tsang after this year’s DC elections.

As there is only less than a week before the contest takes place, unless we see some unexpected and major incidents over the next few days which could reverse the tide of public opinion, it is certain that the DAB is at a huge disadvantage as it faces off against pan-dems in the Nov. 24 election.

Yet a number of DAB figures have revealed that even though they may suffer another big defeat like what happened in 2003, and lose a lot of seats to the pro-democracy camp, so far there is no one within the party who is pointing a finger at Lee and demanding her resignation.

As a seasoned DAB member has commented, it is hard to compare the current situation to that witnessed in 2003.

It is because back in 2003, Tsang was throwing his weight completely behind the government throughout its legislative push to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law in a high-profile fashion.

As it turned out, Tsang made a serious political misjudgment and alienated a lot of voters, and the rest is history. After the election fiasco, Tsang shouldered political responsibility and stepped down as the party leader.

In contrast, throughout the entire anti-extradition bill saga this year, the DAB has been largely playing a passive role, and has tried repeatedly to talk the administration, albeit in private, into meeting some of the public's demands, such as withdrawing the proposed legislation and establishing an independent inquiry into all the events.

Given that, even if the DAB does suffer a disastrous setback in the upcoming DC election, Lee won't face significant pressure alone.

“Even if someone else was in charge, the outcome would be the same. There is no reason why she (i.e. Starry Lee) should be made to take all the responsibility for it,” the DAB figure said.

Moreover, another reason why there won't be calls among the DAB for Lee to step down is that it would be very difficult to find someone else to fill her shoes if she is made to resign, given the shortage of talent with leadership potential in the party.

As another DAB member has analyzed, there are currently five vice-chairmen in the party.

Among them, only Gary Chan Hak-kan, who has been serving as lawmaker since 2008, has relatively substantial political experience. With regard to the other vice chairs, if they are to lead the party at this point, it would be too big a task for them.

Besides, as the 2020 Legislative Council race is approaching, and with the election prospects of pro-establishment candidates likely to remain as grim as now, it would be a daunting task for the DAB to find someone else who is capable of leading the fight against the pan-dems, and is also able to balance the interests among the various factions within the party.

As such, a lot of DAB members believe no matter how things play out in relation to the upcoming DC election, it would be in the party’s best interest to let Lee stay on as chairperson at least until the 2020 Legco race.

Lee will be seeking re-election in the To Kwa Wan North constituency of the Kowloon City District Council this time, where she is going to face off with former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.