Hong Kong 'labour party' could be on horizon, but who will vote for it?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 November, 2010, 12:00am

For more than a decade, pan-democrat politicians have considered grouping together the several independent trade unions to back a political party representing workers that would run for seats in the legislature.

The idea for such a labour party has been given fresh impetus with the passage of the minimum-wage law and the government's plan to study regulations on working hours.

Pan-democrat lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Yiu-chung and Cyd Ho Sau-lan say they have been discussing the possibility of forming a centre-left party to campaign for the rights of the underprivileged.

But their efforts are being clouded by uncertainty over the electoral picture for 2012 and the deep-rooted split between pro-Beijing and independent trade unions.

Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a former lawmaker who represented the social welfare sector in the Legislative Council, is among those behind the idea. Following his withdrawal from the Civic Party due to long-standing differences over its future direction, he is talking of forming a new organisation.

'Hong Kong lacks a centre-left party that provides a clear platform for the grass roots of society,' Cheung said. 'Now is the time for the electorate to be given such an option.'

Under plans being discussed, the labour party would be backed by several trade unions - with the backbone of support being the 160,000-strong Confederation of Trade Unions headed by Lee - together with social and community groups. Prominent academics and veteran unionists could serve as advisers.

Similar to the British Labour Party model, the party would draw its policy positions from views put forward by the unions and groups.

Hopes are that the party, which the lawmakers say could be up and running in six months, would fill the void in the political spectrum.

Insiders hope it would serve as a platform from which to maintain a continuous presence of grass-roots-oriented lawmakers in the legislature, as opposed to Lee and other independents having to rely on personal charisma and service records to win re-election.

But organisers admit several key issues need to be resolved before the party can formally be set up.

Individual unions will need to be committed to backing it with financial resources and manpower.

The level of support the party could expect under the present political climate is also in question, with it being unclear how yet-to-be-finalised electoral arrangements for 2012 will affect its prospects.

Some organisers also fear many working class voters and middle class sympathisers would already have identified with the Democrats or the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's traditional split in the labour movement between the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions and independent pro-democracy unions might also affect voter support.

Chinese University academic Ivan Choi Chi-keung said it would be easy to form a new party, but making it successful is another matter.