Democrats should ride wave of discontent to force out Leung Chun-ying
Albert Cheng says they must unite in opposition to the new town development plan, the next rallying point after the Occupy Central vote
If the democrats play their cards right in the next few months, Leung Chun-ying's days as chief executive may well be numbered.
The overwhelming turnout for the informal plebiscite organised by the Occupy Central movement has come as a total surprise, not only to the central and Hong Kong governments, but also the pan-democratic camp.
The Chinese authorities have sought to scupper the civil referendum by issuing a white paper to remind Hongkongers of Beijing's complete control over the special administrative region.
However, instead of dashing the people's dream for democracy, the high-handed approach backfired. So far, well over 740,000 residents have voted, thereby declaring their support for the Occupy movement.
The movement's leaders - the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, University of Hong Kong academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting and sociologist Chan Kin-man - had set themselves a target of just 200,000 votes. They even offered to bow out if fewer than 100,000 votes were received.
In the run-up to the poll, Occupy's online voting platform was hacked into by computers reportedly using IP addresses from China-funded institutions. The Chinese propaganda machine even denounced the poll as illegal.
Yet the people of Hong Kong have spoken. Even though the votes have yet to be tabulated, the message is loud and clear. Any official attempt to ram a window-dressing reform package down the throat of the pubic is now clearly unacceptable.
Leung initially refused to comment on the polls, telling reporters over the weekend that he had "nothing to add to what the government spokesperson has already said in the press release".
On Tuesday, however, the usually aloof chief executive sought to lower the temperature. In a nimble statement, Leung said the people's aspirations for universal suffrage in 2017 were in line with those of the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities.
His response, however, begged the bigger question of whether future nomination procedures would be so restrictive that popular democratic leaders would be barred from contesting the office of the chief executive.
Only a month ago, the pan-democrats were bitterly divided over their tactics. The younger generation of activists were impatient about the movement's protracted public engagement process. Questions were raised about whether the Occupy initiators could last to see the day when they actually call for action in the streets.
The tables have now been turned. The enthusiastic turnout has re-galvanised Occupy Central.
It is now up to the democrats to make the best out of this spectacular outpouring of collective discontent. If they can ride on the current sentiments against the authorities, they may not even need to activate their Occupy action plan before Leung submits himself to popular pressure.
Public discontent is so intense that people have started talking about a possible repeat of what happened in 2005, when the deeply unpopular Tung Chee-hwa was forced to relinquish his post as chief executive.
The northeastern New Territories project may well be the last straw on the camel's back for Leung.
This grand development project is the cornerstone of his vision of greater fusion between Hong Kong and the mainland. Leung has said that the northern part of the New Territories should be regarded as a hub for the entire southern China. He envisaged that mainland visitors could come to the northern areas without a visa.
Affected villagers in the New Territories and sympathetic young activists are determined to block the development project. They have been protesting for months.
At first, most of the pan-democratic lawmakers failed to realise the far-reaching political implications of the issue. Their reaction was lukewarm. It was only after the protesters begin to dominate the headlines that the democrats stepped up their opposition to the project.
The New Territories development plan is Beijing's litmus test of whether to keep Leung. The Legislative Council Finance Committee's deliberations on the project, which triggered the fiercest protests so far, are only part of a long process before the project gets the green light.
The democrats should echo the protests outside Legco by seeking every opportunity to derail the project in their chamber proceedings. Should this happen, Leung's inability to govern would become conspicuous. It will not be in Beijing's interests then to keep an unpopular, lame-duck chief executive.
Indeed, the democrats should have closed ranks in their opposition to the plan by blocking government requests.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org