A basic flaw in the democrats' makeup
To say that the pan-democratic camp is in trouble is merely stating the obvious. Beset by a string of scandals over the past two years, the Democratic Party is struggling to arrest a decline in popularity. Launched last year amid high expectations, the Civic Party has left much to be desired. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the question of whether the radical League of Social Democrats will do more harm than good to the cause.
Worse still, the long-running squabbles among the parties and their allies, such as The Frontier and the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, show no sign of abating.
Signs of fierce infighting have been clearly evident during discussions on the selection process for a candidate to represent the democrats in December's Legislative Council by-election.
Backstabbing, and open challenges against her candidacy from the Democrats and the Civic Party, are said to have prompted Cyd Ho Sau-lan's early exit from the contest. Feelings of doom and gloom have also been deepening in the pan-democratic camp because of the steady drop in public support for the introduction of universal suffrage in 2012.
Although opinion polls show that just over 50 per cent of people still want full democracy in 2012, that is markedly lower than the 60 per cent support rating which has remained consistent in recent years.
It is against this backdrop that calls have emerged for former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang - arguably Hong Kong's most popular politician - to unite and lead the democratic force.
Announcing her decision not to run, Ms Ho said, without specifically naming Mrs Chan, that there were other people more able to unite the pan-democrats.
Mrs Chan's supporters argue that, by facing a popular vote, she would give a big boost to the fight for democracy.
With everything seemingly going wrong for the democrats, there is a growing feeling among some members that they need a fresh impetus, to reignite the passion for democracy and, just as importantly, to get the pan-democratic force into shape.
Although Mrs Chan's political influence has declined since her decision not to run in the chief executive election, she is still seen as the best 'quick-fix' in the democrats' battle to bolster unity and fight for universal suffrage.
That could not be more ironic. It was not so long ago that some members of the camp were ridiculing Mrs Chan for being a 'sudden democrat' after she joined the pro- democracy rallies. However well-intentioned the people are who hold out hope that she could unite the democrats, Mrs Chan should know that it will be an uphill, if not impossible, task.
The fact that two leading Democrats, Martin Lee Chu-ming and Yeung Sum, were criticised by some for betraying their own party's candidate, Kam Nai-wai, by urging Mrs Chan to stand speaks volumes about the turbulence within the camp.
Given her popularity, Mrs Chan would be the most acceptable candidate among the democrats if she agreed to run. But it is wishful thinking to believe that she could become a leader of all democrats who could single-handedly guide them to power.
The problem facing the pan-democratic camp in the Legco by-election stems from the deep-seated weaknesses and shortcomings of each party, and the force as a whole. Aside from the depth of mutual distrust and suspicion, the lack of a long-term strategy to groom successors is another cause of the political friction.
This must all serve as a wake-up call to the democrats to go back to basics. Actions must include bolstering unity, grooming young talent and widening the support base in society - for the tougher battles in the name of democracy that lie ahead.
Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large. firstname.lastname@example.org