A sinking democratic ship

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 June, 2006, 12:00am

All's quiet on the political front. But that is not because the dissidents of the pro-democracy camp have stopped trying to stir up trouble.

In fact, they have tried very hard, to the point of accusing the communists (aka the central government) of infiltrating their parties and tapping their office phones.

In previous years, this would have caused a sharp reaction - perhaps even becoming a news item in the international media.

That happened in 2004, when three popular dissident radio talk-show hosts quit their programmes, alleging they had been threatened by pro-mainland forces.

Meanwhile, the credibility of the dissidents was eroded by their decision to participate in next year's chief executive election, which they had previously scorned.

For politicians, it is not important if people disagree with you: but when they don't believe you, you're dead.

And our dissidents are now as good as dead. Their popularity ratings have been dropping relentlessly since they rejected the government's political reform proposal in December.

They wanted to lend their support to the much-criticised RTHK, but their arguments - even coming from senior barristers - sounded wishy-washy and unconvincing.

They tried to change an important platform by giving up their insistence on universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008.

They even supported the government's budget and the plan to build its headquarters at the Tamar site.

But such efforts only proved to the public that the dissidents had lost their direction: their popularity didn't increase at all.

The transformation of the Article 45 Concern Group into the Civic Party was supposed to broaden the dissidents' appeal, under new wrappings of rationality and professionalism. But again, they failed to prove they are credible.

Depending on the occasion and the subject, they seem to say one thing one day and another thing the next. They sometimes proclaim the death of our legal system, then call it the best in the world.

Ronnie Tong Ka-wah has insisted that he has a hotline to Beijing, as if flaunting important contacts.

So far, the Civic Party has succeeded only in cannibalising other dissident parties and watching its own popularity erode since its inception.

While it is difficult to fake a mild disposition, some radicals have banded together and called themselves social democrats. Neither the general public, nor they themselves, know exactly what that term stands for.

In any case, you can bet that these so-called social democrats will put forward their own list of candidates for the 2008 Legislative Council election. That will indirectly sever their links with the traditional democrats and the Civic Party.

And guess where their votes would come from? The same group of pro-democracy voters. They don't seem to understand that the ongoing internal strife will only scuttle their own battleship.

As for the old flagship, the Democratic Party, it is now a shambles. Fierce infighting continues, and many pundits predict a third split in the offing - likely after their internal election at the end of the year.

The most recent episode was an internet leak of party e-mails, which exposed how undemocratic some of its leaders were. After the e-mails were disclosed, no one from the party even bothered to comment on, or deny, their contents.

This is pathetic, and certainly does not promote democratic development.

But, for the moment, we all welcome it because it gives us a reprieve from the trivial bickering - while the economy grew 8.2 per cent in the first quarter.

So, dissidents, please carry on making fools of yourselves.

Lau Nai-keung is a Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference delegate