Growing pains

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 1999, 12:00am

It is a mistake to describe the dialogue taking place in two of Hong Kong's political parties as an identity crisis. Both the Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong have very strong identities, which have stood them in good stead up to now.

But, following the handover, both parties have been forced into a reappraisal of their roles. It is no longer enough to simply take a 'pro' or 'anti' stance on every issue.

To their credit, the party members recognise that if they want to stay at the centre of events, they have to devise a manifesto which is tailored to the needs of a changing, and increasingly sophisticated society.

It may be a little ingenuous to hear serving politicians admit that their party is not really up to the job ahead.

But it is extremely refreshing, and augurs well for the future political landscape of the SAR, even if it is likely that the parties will take a long time - perhaps years - to hammer out new personas.

But the dramas of the past 18 months have shown how important it is that they do just that. A really effective opposition might have sharpened the Government's poor performance during periods of crisis. But when the legislature is reduced to a mere talking shop, as has happened here, politicians are only able to offer carping criticism instead of alternative ideas.

The time for action, restrained and positive, as well as internal debate, has arrived. Whether the Democrats can throw off their middle-class image, or if the DAB will monopolise grassroots support depends on how each charts its future.

And it is a sign of Hong Kong's growing maturity that this, in some cases painful, process has begun.

For the past year, the parties have done little more than lambast the administration from the sidelines.

The parties may not be ready to shoulder responsibility yet. But in recognising that they have to come up with real solutions and strategies rather than lame criticism, they are preparing for the day when they are able to offer an agenda which may get them voted into positions of real power.