Common bond for the 'basin of loose sand'?
When the Democratic Party's founding chairman, Martin Lee Chu-ming, won a Legislative Council seat in the 2004 election, he lamented that he was, in fact, most unhappy about his victory. He was referring to a blunder by the Democrats in their campaign that cost a seat for a pro-democracy ally, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, in the Hong Kong Island geographical consti- tuency election.
An excessive play of crisis-talk by the Democrats for pro-democracy voters to concentrate their votes on the Democrats' ticket led by Yeung Sum, followed by Mr Lee, saw Ms Ho, who ran on a joint ticket with Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, losing by a small margin.
That is history. Three years on, it is no surprise that there is still a feeling of regret among Mr Lee and the party's core leadership, who feel that they owe Ms Ho a favour. The by-election for the seat left vacant after the death of Ma Lik could be an obvious opportunity for them to heal the old wound by backing Miss Ho's candidacy.
But, if that had been the Democrats' game plan for the by-election, it has proved to be wishful thinking.
Shortly after Ms Ho said publicly she planned to run, Kam Nai-wai, a Democratic Party member who sits on the Central and Western District Council, expressed his wish of getting the party's blessing for his candidacy.
He wants to at least be given a fair chance to compete with other aspirants in representing the pan-democratic camp in the by-election. Put plainly, he was opposed to the idea of the party's big shots anointing a candidate without going through the democratic procedures.
It is still unclear how the controversy can be resolved. But it is crystal clear that the chances of the pro-democracy side winning the by-election will be significantly reduced if there is more than one candidate from the mainstream democratic camp.
As there is only one seat up for grabs, the by-election, scheduled for autumn, will become a 'single seat, single vote' contest that favours the democrats if (and it is a big 'if' at the moment) they manage to stand united.
Results of the 2004 Hong Kong Island geographical constituency election show the Democrats' and the Audrey Eu-Cyd Ho tickets got a combined total of 58 per cent of the vote. The pro-government, pro-Beijing camp - including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Ma's former party - received no more than a 40 per cent share of the vote in the 2004 and previous elections.
Given the open secret that former secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee plans to run for a Legco seat and the fact the DAB does not have a strong candidate, it is likely that the party and its allies will throw their weight behind Mrs Ip.
Mrs Ip has remained silent about her plans. It looks almost certain that both she and the DAB will not talk about the issue publicly until after Ma's funeral is held, next week. An early entry into elective politics will certainly disrupt Mrs Ip's game plan for the 2008 Legco election. In view of the change of circumstances, and the high stakes of the by-election, it seems that she has little choice but to fly the banner of the pro- government, pro-Beijing camp in the battle with the democratic opposition.
The paradox, however, is that her imminent candidacy could become a catalyst for the democrats to pull together in the battle. More importantly, her candidacy will help galvanise the atmosphere and boost the turnout rate of the poll.
As the democratic movement has entered a low point and the pan-democratic camp is being likened to a 'basin of loose sand', the Legco by-election could prove to be a golden opportunity for members to boost the faltering aspirations - if they manage to rediscover their lost sense of togetherness and purpose.
Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.