Democrats need to focus on the long term
Retiring Democrat legislator Martin Lee Chu-ming is no stranger to controversy - and this reputation is continuing even after his decision to quit elective politics when his current term expires in July.
His observation that the Civic Party could take over at the helm of the pan-democratic camp has understandably been greeted with feelings of betrayal within his own party.
At a time when the pro-democracy flagship is facing a very difficult battle in the Legislative Council election in September, Mr Lee's comment, however true it may be, could not be more demoralising.
Worse, suggestions that the party's vice-chairman, Sin Chung-kai, should form a joint ticket with Anson Chan Fang On-sang - the former chief secretary who won a seat in a Legco by-election in November - to boost his chances have further damaged the party's image and morale. Mr Sin is tipped to succeed Albert Ho Chun-yan as the next chairman, in 2010.
Underlying the thinking of a joint ticket with Mrs Chan are fears that Mr Sin risks defeat if he runs on his own list, under the proportional representation electoral system.
Since Mrs Chan is more popular, and likely to win far more votes than she needs for her own seat, analysts say the smart tactic would be to put Mr Sin second on her list. In this way, he would benefit from Mrs Chan's extra votes. Mrs Chan has not yet said publicly whether she will run again.
Mr Lee's remarks about the leadership role of the Civic Party, together with the idea of a joint ticket with Mrs Chan, have one thing in common. They reflect a feeling of resignation about the reality of the Democratic Party: it is in decline and its allies, such as the Civic Party and Mrs Chan, should take on a bigger role.
Speaking on an RTHK radio programme last week, Mr Lee said he would not be surprised if the Civic Party emerged as the flag-carrier of the pan-democratic camp. 'The Democratic Party absolutely accepts this ... We and the Civic Party are brothers and sisters. The rise of the Civic Party is good for democratic development,' he said.
However, development of the Civic Party, inaugurated in 2006, may still fall short of the expectations of supporters in the pro-democratic camp and society in general, in particular over aspects such as its positioning, approach and work at the district level.
Certainly, the party has lured a group of new, young faces, particularly from the professional sector, to take part in political and policy debates.
Similarly, the decision by Mrs Chan to undergo the baptism of elective politics has brought about positive changes to democratic development, in both symbolic and substantive terms. It will continue to do so.
The emergence of fresh faces and the retirement of the old guard are part and parcel of democratic politics. The rise and fall of political parties is also natural when full democracy is not yet in place and party politics is still in its infancy.
From a positive perspective, the imminent departure of Mr Lee, and Yeung Sum, can help clear the stage for the Democrats to reinvent themselves, adopt new thinking and change their style and approach to politics. To do so, it is important for Democrats to set their sights on longer-term developments, instead of concentrating only on the scramble for seats in the upcoming Legco poll.
Take the Hong Kong Island battle as an example. It looks almost certain that the Democratic Party will win only one seat. Whether it teams up with Mrs Chan, or members run on their own in two lists will make no real difference.
Indeed, Democrats should reconsider the 'two-list' strategy, taking into account its pros and cons in terms of the party's unity, succession, image, and the chance of winning on Hong Kong Island.
Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large. firstname.lastname@example.org