Hong Kong pro-democracy parties to change tactics in new Legco

Five generations of Democratic Party chairmen, including (from left) Mr Yeung Sum (in yellow shirt), Ms Emily Lau (in red), Mr Albert Ho, Mr Martin Lee and Mr Lee Wing Tat, turned up to support the party's young contenders on the eve of polling day.
Five generations of Democratic Party chairmen, including (from left) Mr Yeung Sum (in yellow shirt), Ms Emily Lau (in red), Mr Albert Ho, Mr Martin Lee and Mr Lee Wing Tat, turned up to support the party's young contenders on the eve of polling day. ST PHOTO: JOYCE LIM

Heavy loss in recent polls may see them take clearer approach to self-determination for the city, say analysts

As a new generation of lawmakers prepares to be sworn in on Oct 1, traditional pro-democracy parties are thinking of new ways to regain voters' support and strengthen their positions against the pro-establishment parties.

The Sept 4 Legislative Council (Legco) elections saw the traditional pro-democracy camp losing almost 20 percentage points of their votes to a new wave of localist and pro-independence candidates, who surprised analysts by winning seven seats. The pro-democracy camp won just 36 per cent of the vote - it took 56 per cent in 2012 - while the localists won 19 per cent.

The heavy loss is putting pressure on the traditional pro-democracy parties to alter their stance, which might see them taking a clearer approach to self-determination for Hong Kong, said analysts.

The city's future is one of the biggest concerns of voters, as seen in the record turnout of 2.2 million or 58 per cent of eligible voters. Many are worried about what will happen after 2047, when the "one country, two systems" framework, under which the city is governed and which gives it a high degree of autonomy, ends.

In order to hold on to their vote bank, traditional pan-democrats need to dedicate more time to address such concerns. But first, they need to work more closely with the localist lawmakers in electing the new president of Legco and heads of sub-committees, to ensure that the pro-establishment camp will not be able to monopolise the top positions, said analyst Willy Lam.

SAME IDEOLOGY

Self-determination for Hong Kong might have gained traction in recent years, but the ideology is not new and it is what traditional pan-democrats have always been championing for.

CIVIC PARTY INCUMBENT KWOK KA KI

It is crucial that the pan-democrats "strike a balance" in advocating self-determination - the right of Hong Kongers to decide their own future after 2047 - "because they would not want to put themselves in a position that they can no longer talk to Beijing", said Dr Lam.

Analyst Ivan Choy also does not see the traditional pan-democrats taking an extreme stance on the issue. "They have to cater to the middle-ground voters," he said.

Civic Party incumbent Kwok Ka Ki, 55, said the recent polls presented "a few lessons" for the traditional pan-democrats. This was particularly as veteran lawmakers like the Labour Party's Mr Lee Cheuk Yan and Ms Cyd Ho, with good track records of serving their constituents, failed to return to the council.

"Self-determination for Hong Kong might have gained traction in recent years, but the ideology is not new and it is what traditional pan-democrats have always been championing for," said Dr Kwok.

He believes what voters want is to see a new political energy in Legco.

"Should we be more radical? We will not endorse any violent behaviour, both in the council or on the streets. That's our bottom line. But we will embrace new, radical ideas and ideology and explore new ways to deal with the 'one country, two systems' framework," he said.

While the main aim of the pro-democracy camp is to achieve universal suffrage in the electoral system, not all pan-democrats are supportive of a referendum on self-determination, which is being called for by some localists. But they continue to push for higher autonomy for the city as promised by the Basic Law, the city's Constitution.

Newly elected lawmaker Lam Cheuk Ting, 39, of the Democratic Party, said his party will continue its fight for greater democracy under the "one country, two systems" framework.

But "we will be more flexible in our tactics when dealing with the undemocratic system, that is, to be more open to all forms of resistance tactics" and not just stick to the usual filibustering, he added.

Mr Lam said that the majority of people just wanted to show their discontent with the central government's policies. And if that remains unchanged, "the traditional pan-democrats will inevitably face a difficult time" as more of their supporters could defect to the radical parties.

Outgoing lawmaker and chairman of the Democratic Party, Ms Emily Lau, 64, said her party is looking at a demarcation of roles of the party head and elected lawmakers, which could see a non-lawmaker leading the party in the new term.

Civic Party leader and outgoing lawmaker Alan Leong believes the 26 new faces in the 70-seat council will bring a new democratic system to Hong Kong. "We have to take stock and to decide on how best we can carry the democratic force forward," said Mr Leong, 58.

He added that the weekly lunch meetings of the traditional pan-democrats will no longer work with the new lawmakers, a few of whom are highly critical of the pan-democrats.

But Mr Leong is certain the localist lawmakers "will not be siding with the anti-democratic camp".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'HK pro-democracy parties to change tactics in new Legco'. Print Edition | Subscribe