Democratic Party at crossroads in reform fight

May 13, 2014 14:06
All the three options chosen by the Occupy Central supporters feature public nomination. Photo: HKEJ

To stay or not to stay. That is the question faced by the Democratic Party, arguably Hong Kong's pro-democracy flagship, over its membership in the Alliance for True Democracy.

The Democrats have apparently found the decision so difficult to make they want to do it with one heart, one mind. Yesterday, they told reporters they have asked the central government’s Liaison Office chief Zhang Xiaoming to reschedule a meeting on political reform, originally planned for Wednesday. Zhang was said to be understanding about the change of schedule.

On its face, the Democrats have decided to rethink their participation in the alliance in the wake of a bitter row over the vote on 15 reform options selected by the Occupy Central movement organizers by about 2,500 Occupy supporters on May 6. The 2,500-odd participants were given the task of selecting the three most popular options for all registered voters to choose from in a city-wide “referendum” scheduled for June 22.

The final option chosen will become the formal proposal of the civil disobedience movement before the government publishes its blueprint at the second, and final, round of consultation tentatively set for end of this year.

The three options have one thing in common. They feature public nomination, under which voters can directly name a candidate to contest the post of chief executive through universal suffrage in 2017. A raft of moderate models including two options floated respectively by “Hong Kong 2020” led by former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and a group of 18 scholars failed to get into the Top Three.

The bone of contention was the so-called “tactical voting” by the radical People Power. Both People Power and the Democratic Party are members of the Alliance for True Democracy, which has championed the “three-track blueprint”. It features three nomination methods for the 2017 chief executive poll. They are public nomination, nomination by political parties and by a broadly-represented nominating committee.

Mrs. Chan, among some moderate democrats, lamented that people have not been given real choices. They have a point as all three short-listed options feature public nomination. Beijing has indicated clearly public nomination would not be acceptable because it would pre-empt the nominating committee, which it said is the sole body given the power of nominating under Basic Law Article 45.

The Democratic Party is infuriated that People Power has not cast a vote in support of the Alliance’s option as it is obligated to do so. Instead, the radicals mobilized their supporters to vote in favor of their own public nomination model, arguing they did it for tactical consideration. They argued in a post-vote press conference they played tactics to stop any option that does not contain public nomination from being selected for the June 22 referendum.

The Democrats have accused People Power of lacking integrity. Frustrated with the depletion of mutual trust, they said they would consider pulling out from the Alliance or demanding a reprimand of People Power.

True, the Democrats’ rethink is, in no small part, because of their long-standing animosity with the radicals. The biggest worry is that they will be bundled with the alliance and the Occupy Central movement, which have been dominated, if not hijacked, by radicals.

Compared with the radical wing in the pan-democratic camp, the Democrats have taken a markedly moderate stance in recent years. Their decision to seek compromise with Beijing through quiet talk in 2010 has been crucial in securing the passage of the 2012 electoral blueprint. But it cost the Democrats dearly. They have suffered from internal dispute and a loss of support in elections.

Although the Democrats are still committed to the “three-track model”, it is clear their leadership is willing to accept a blueprint that does not contain public nomination if the nominating threshold allows for genuine competition, which means a real chance for a pan-democrat candidate to enter the wing.

With signs of a surge of radicalism in the Occupy Central movement growing, the rivalry with radicals in the wake of the May 6 row has provided an opportunity for the Democrats to delink from the pro-democracy coalition. No doubt, there is a price to pay for the exit. But doing so could allow more room for them to hold talks with Beijing for a compromise over the 2017 electoral blueprint.

The leading Democrats will risk causing more disputes within the party and giving more ammunition to the radicals if they go ahead with the meeting with Zhang as they rethink their strategy in the reform battle.

The rescheduling may have arisen from the practical need for internal discussion. But it may also be a sign of an imminent significant change in the course of the Democrats in the political reform debate.

-- Contact the writer at [email protected]


He was editor-at-large at the South China Morning Post and, more recently, deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.