D-Day approaches for Democrats

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Jun 2021

Former government minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung is not a charismatic political figure, but his observation that the Democratic Party faces an existential question is quite true.

Following the Beijing-led electoral reforms to drastically reduce the number of directly elected seats to just 20 in a new 90-seat Legislative Council, the pan-democrats have come under mounting pressure to act in concert to boycott the poll that will elect the reformed Legco in December.

For instance, the radical faction League of Social Democrats has taken the lead to declare that it won't field any candidates to compete in the December vote.

The Democratic Party, the largest in the opposition, is still undecided on whether or not to contend.

Nevertheless, it failed to surprise me when the Democrats said recently that "messengers from Beijing" had approached them to urge the party to take part in the election despite the drastic changes made to the game rules.

It's easy to understand as participation from a broad political spectrum in a reformed election can showcase the changes as improvement.

Although Cheung is an ex-official in the cabinet of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, he is a moderate who maintains long-standing connections with the Democratic Party.

That's despite the fact that he had to quit the party to become an independent in 2004 following a bitter split with the radical wing of "young turks" within the party.

An ideal figure to do lobbying, Cheung's appeal that the Democratic Party should contend the upcoming poll did not come out of nowhere.

The Democratic Party is divided on the issue, with moderates sharing much of Cheung's view. If the moderates had been forced to take the backseat in the past, would they return to try and take control of the wheel again?

On Sunday, Cheung broke his silence to remind his old colleagues that they had better make the choice one way or another - not forgetting to add that, personally, he would like to see them participate in the election.

It's a difficult question for the Democrats. If a party doesn't take part in any elections, what is the purpose of a party? This is a question concerning the existence of the party in the long term.

But then, the Democrats are also under pressure to answer another question: what is the purpose of participating in an election?

The political landscape has changed totally. If the party had dreamed of achieving something possible in a system of universal suffrage, they would now have to define a new purpose to achieve in the new political setup.

Again, as Cheung correctly observed, this is about the party's existence.

To date, many high-profile pan-democrats have either declared publicly that they were quitting politics or have been jailed for various alleged offences.

It can be imagined that some parties active in past elections may eventually vanish from the scene entirely.

Judging from the ex-minister's appeal, it appears that Beijing wishes to keep the Democratic Party as a moderate opposition voice in local politics - a role that pro-establishment political figures have been unable to master.

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