Democratic Party slow to decide on Shanghai talks after 2010 backlash

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 7:58am

On May 24, 2010, leaders of the Democratic Party held their heads high as they entered the compound of the central government's liaison office for talks on political reform.

In a dramatic U-turn, the central government endorsed the party's "one man, two votes" proposal that paved the way for the eventual passage of the reform package for the 2012 election. Under the system, candidates for five new seats were nominated by elected district councillors, with the winners decided by the city's 3.2 million voters.

Four years on, the party that took the bold step in 2010 is the last pan-democratic group to make up its mind about accepting an invitation made to all 70 lawmakers to travel to Shanghai for talks with Beijing officials on political reform.

The party's central committee met last night and decided to send only two of its six lawmakers, Sin Chung-kai and Helena Wong Pik-wan, to Shanghai.

Political pundits regarded the apparent indecision as an indication that the former leader of the pan-democratic camp was still licking its wounds after radicals attacked the party for holding secretive talks with Beijing and betraying voters in 2010.

Pro-Beijing commentators accused the Democrats of being condescending in sitting on the invitation for three weeks. Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai insisted his party was not reluctant to go. It wanted to be sure it was "not dancing to Beijing's tune", he said.

"The central government wants to show the people that they are willing to negotiate and that the pan-democrats will fall in line," Wu said. "So we have to convey the message that while we want to talk … we need to make it clear that we want an election without political screening, and do not want to simply follow [Beijing]."

He added: "There would have been questions, too, if we just agreed to go immediately."

Wu's stance echoed remarks by party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing on Tuesday when she said she understood Hongkongers wanted the pan-democrats to talk to Beijing in a "dignified manner" and "with our heads held high".

Internal differences about whether the trip and debate would yield any progress at all further complicated the Democrats' decision-making. Veterans such as former lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong believed it would build a platform for dialogue between pan-democrats and central government, but some young Democrats had reservations. "We don't think there is any mutual trust and atmosphere for dialogue at this moment," a source in the party's central committee said.

That view was highlighted in the first days after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced the trip on March 12.

Some pan-democrats, including the Labour Party's Cyd Ho Sau-lan, initially threatened to boycott the visit unless authorities guaranteed there would be an exclusive meeting between pan-democrats and officials on political reform.

They wanted to be sure the occasion would not turn into another political debate with pro-Beijing lawmakers, or worse, a non-political study tour similar to the delegation by 42 lawmakers to the Shanghai Expo 2010, which took place two weeks before the Democrats' now notorious visit to the liaison office.

Some pro-government figures said that in the absence of a separate session, they would pull out of the meeting with Wang and Li, to give the pan-democrats an exclusive audience.

The pan-democrats' request prompted Leung to promise a half-day meeting with Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei and Wang Guangya , head of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office - although he stopped short of guaranteeing a separate meeting.

It was not until Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said earlier this week that he believed an exclusive audience was possible that nine more pan-democrats decided to join the April 12 and 13 visit.

Until then, only three pan-democrats - the Civic Party's Ronny Tong Ka-wah, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats and Frederick Fung Kin-kee of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood - had agreed to go.