A worthy challenger?
Against all odds, the Democratic Party kicked off its chief executive election campaign with much fanfare at the weekend. Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the party logo and releasing pigeons to symbolise their vow to break the political 'birdcage', members were keen to show a sense of solidarity, purpose and hope.
However, there is deep cynicism and doubts among some quarters of the pan-democratic camp about the Democrats' decision to contest the election. Some poured scorn on the credentials of the party's candidate, Lee Wing-tat. Others dismissed the whole exercise as meaningless at best and counterproductive at worst, making no difference to the outcome while giving legitimacy to the 'small-circle' election.
At the other end of the political spectrum, pro-Beijing figures took advantage of the Democrats' move to launch a fresh round of allegations. Quoting unnamed sources, some Chinese press reports claimed that Mr Lee, who succeeded Yeung Sum a few months ago, was trying to boost his own political clout both inside and outside the party by bidding for the top post.
And if there had not already been enough negative publicity, the Democrats' decision to drop the idea of a shadow cabinet last week was seen as a further setback.
The spate of bad news has been a godsend for long-time critics of the democratic camp, who condemn its failure to act as a worthy alternative political force to the administration.
The fact that some segments of society have reacted negatively to the election bid by Hong Kong's largest opposition party seems ironic in view of the depth of hope for a genuine election.
The two other major parties - the Liberals and the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong - have already said that they do not intend to put forward a candidate.
Representing the moderate line of thinking among professional and academic circles, a group of prominent figures launched a campaign on Sunday to prevent a repeat of the 'four nos' re-election of Tung Chee-hwa. They refer to the fact there were no rivals, no political platform, no canvassing of the public and no ballots in the 2002 election.
With potential candidates such as Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen having already said they will not contest July's election, Mr Lee has emerged as the only rival to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, in the unlikely event that he should get 100 nominations from the 800-member Election Committee. Under the existing election law, there will be no ballots if there is only one candidate.
Whether there will be any political platform or canvassing of the public is basically up to Mr Tsang, who is the frontrunner for the post.
Like other doubters and cynics, Mr Tsang may dismiss the challenge of Mr Lee as mere political showbiz to seek publicity. He may not consider the Democrat a worthy rival, simply because he will be unlikely to even meet the nomination requirements.
If this is true, Mr Tsang would, with such a negative approach, risk losing an opportunity through an election campaign to try to win the hearts and minds of ordinary people - most of whom do not have a say in the outcome.
The Democrats must make people believe that they are worthy challengers, which is a tough task. And they have to embark on a people-oriented campaign to take issue with Mr Tsang and, more importantly, the administration he represents, on ways to build a better Hong Kong. If they succeed in this, then the ridicule, humiliation and harsh words from friends and foes alike will have been a political price worth paying.
Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large