Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chi-ying was yesterday revealed as a driving force in an effort to have leading lights in the democracy movement quit the Legislative Council to put the administration on the spot.
The revelation about the role of the Apple Daily boss came from Democratic Party veteran Szeto Wah, who said he vetoed the scheme when he went to Lai's home about two months ago.
Arriving there, he found Democratic Party stalwart Martin Lee Chu-ming, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, and Liberal Party founder Allen Lee Pang-fei - all former legislators - along with Lai.
They tried to persuade him to back a plan for one democratic legislator from each of five geographical constituencies to quit and then stand in by-elections on a platform of universal suffrage.
But Szeto said he is against the Democratic Party being part of such a move.
He criticized some pro-democracy parties for trying to occupy the moral high ground in order to force the Democratic Party to join them.
"We can discuss our differences but they should not force their opinions on us."
Szeto also said on a radio program that he did not go public with what had been said at Lai's home as he believed it was a private discussion.
And Martin Lee has now backed off from what appeared to be his position at that meeting.
Also speaking yesterday, Lee called on pan-democrats to seek a consensus before any legislature-quitting action. "Take a step back and reflect," he said, urging pan-democrats not to be extreme.
Allen Lee's stance has also softened. He said "things have already changed" since the Lai-hosted meeting.
The resignation idea is now "meaningless," and he criticized the League of Social Democrats for pushing ahead with it.
"They cannot promote democracy in this way. I am very disappointed."
Lai's position in the power play became clearer in a Cable TV news program, with Szeto saying Lai invited him to a meal at his home about two months ago and sent a car to pick him up.
Chan and the two Lees were already there, he said, and after they talked for nearly two hours: "I clearly said I did not support the plan."
Political commentator James Sung Lap-kung said Szeto's decision to go public is an attempt to boost the Democratic Party, which is being accused of "betraying" other pro-democrats.
But party chairman Albert Ho Chun- yan said yesterday that the plan for five legislators to resign is simply not workable.
Speaking on another radio program, Ho said he wants to preserve the power of democrats to veto the administration's proposals for limited reform in 2012. "My worry is that if we lose some seats we may not be able to stop the constitutional reform proposal," he said.
According to the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme, the political reform proposals - increasing the sizes of the Legislative Council and the Election Committee for the chief executive - have already had an impact: raising the rating of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen by 1.5 points to give him a "pass" at 51.2 percent.