Claws out as parties gear up for electoral change

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am

The passage of the political reform package has brought drastic changes to Hong Kong's political ecosystem. And the imminent expansion of the Legislative Council by 10 seats will most likely lead to more fearsome political wrestling among various parties.

Any candidate could have a shot at Legco as long as he or she secures around 5 per cent of the votes. This explains why there has been increased infighting and power struggles within many parties. The disagreements have little to do with ideology; it all comes down to vested interests because many fear the electoral reform will disadvantage them. The only party that has remained unaffected so far is the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The League of Social Democrats is finally splitting after months of infighting and bitter rows. Founding chairman Wong Yuk-man and founding member Albert Chan Wai-yip have quit, taking with them hundreds of members who are also displeased with the party chief, Andrew To Kwan-hang.

They have vowed to form a new group, People's Force, to 'strive for genuine democracy', and 'go after' the Democratic Party by competing with it in the district council elections later this year.

The Democratic Party recently suffered a serious setback with the mass exodus of up-and-coming members and those from the New Territories East branch. Disenchanted members subsequently formed a new political grouping, the NeoDemocrats.

We also have the New People's Party, an alliance between legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's Savantas Policy Institute and former Liberal Party member Michael Tien Puk-sun. The party pledges to focus on building a 'quality' democratic system in Hong Kong.

Then we have Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who is interested in the so-called 'super-legislator' seats and may contest the district council functional constituency elections next year. Former Civic Party vice-chairman Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung is also trying to pull together a new grouping while the former founding chiefs of the Liberal Party, James Tien Pei-chun and Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, are making a political comeback.

Our electoral rules impose a low ceiling for campaign expenses, prompting many candidates to try to circumvent the regulations. A case in point was last year's sponsorship controversy in which Commercial Radio was accused of allowing the DAB to co-host a community programme to gain publicity. Recently, James Tien was accused of trying to butter up to potential voters in New Territories East by handing out 600 bowls of free barbecued pork rice.

There is nothing new in political parties using adverts or activities to increase their exposure at election times. We shouldn't blame them for doing this; we should blame the inadequacy of the system. Putting limitations on campaign expenses is meant to provide a level playing field for all, but has inadvertently become the root of unfair competition. So, maybe we would be better off without them.

Speaking of fairness, I would like to say a few words about a recent meeting between Wang Guangya , the new director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, and pro-establishment legislators. Wang was accused of favouritism by pan-democrats. This is ludicrous. If Wang is not allowed to hold meetings with allies, then with whom should he meet?

Pan-democrats have chosen to be the opposition, so they shouldn't have criticised Wang for not granting them an audience. They should know where they stand in the political arena, or they risk losing their place in the hearts of voters.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.