Emily Lau Wai-hing’s departure from Legco the end of an era

The Democratic Party must now look to a new generation of leaders who can rebuild the party and foster better relations with Beijing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 11:16pm

Political leaders often do not realise it’s time to call it a day until they are ousted in elections or power struggles. But imperfect electoral systems and lack of competition mean some can hold on to office longer than they deserve. In Hong Kong, the political career of a lawmaker may last from a few years to decades; sometimes even a lifetime. Those who have the wisdom and courage to make way for newcomers remain the minority.

The decision by Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing not to seek re-election in the Legislative Council has therefore surprised many. Having served in the legislature for a quarter of a century, the 63-year-old said it was time to pass on the torch. Another two party lawmakers, Albert Ho Chun-yan and Sin Chung-kai, are also not standing in the September polls. Likewise, a few heavyweights in the establishment camp, including Chan Yuen-han, Tam Yiu-chung, Tsang Yok-sing and Ip Kwok-him, are also said to be not running again.

First elected in the city’s first Legco direct elections in 1991, former journalist Lau has always been at the political forefront . Her political views, in particular those regarding the Chinese Communist Party, may not be widely endorsed in society. But she earns respect for her uncompromising character and principles. Yet her political clout has been waning, as political norms and conventions are increasingly challenged by the younger generation in recent years.

Lau’s departure marks the end of an era. Unlike the old days when the stage was dominated by a few heavyweights from the rival camps, the landscape has become more fragmented today, with youngsters feeling more frustrated and alienated. They are keen to shape the political discourse through street protests, running in elections and even by unlawful actions sometimes.

Veterans making room for young aspirants is an inevitable trend the world over. Although the Democratic Party went through four leadership changes, they were little changed in substance. The incumbent and previous leaders are all seniors who made their names in the last century. The helm has never been passed on to younger hands. In terms of succession, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has done a better job. No parties can survive without new blood. Despite their frosty relations with Beijing and declining influence, the Democrats are still the city’s leading political flagship. The leadership has to be taken up by capable young minds who can rebuild the party and foster better relations with Beijing.