At some point in the short lifespan of the special administrative region's political system, divorces became advantageous. Part of the reason is our proportional representation electoral system, which favours smaller parties. Thus, a break from the prevailing parties to run on a separate ticket seems a lot easier than trying to move up a party list. Politicians who have succeeded with this strategy cement the idea that finding irreconcilable political differences pays dividends.
And that's how Hong Kong's pan-democrats came to be in their current situation. Their political colours cover an ever-expanding spectrum. But the trouble begins when the time comes to leave their differences at the door, to come together and collaborate. The more important the issue, the more difficult it is for them to form a united front.
Constitutional reform is an important issue, and it's an issue that affects political groups' very existence, but yet, the rift in the pan-democratic camp only seems to widen with every crisis. And so it makes sense that Occupy Central co-organiser Chan Kin-man would want his movement to bring together the various factions. So far, it hasn't been able to do so; it's become just another stage for more political slug fests.
It's interesting that former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan lamented in a recent interview that the moral high ground seems to have got in the way. Occupy Central was supposed to be the moral high ground, with the banner of democracy waving high - a way to get the moderates and the radicals back together to fight on a united front.
Instead, however, we have constant competition to occupy the moral high ground. And for some - especially those labelled "radicals" - there only seems to be room for one atop this political nirvana.
Perhaps this has been the pan-democrats' blind spot all along. Their skill at one-upmanship has somehow obliterated whatever moral high ground they were standing on. In their constant contest to tear down each other, they have lost sight of the essence of politics - the pursuit of people-centred goals and interests rather than purely selfish ones, to gain public faith, confidence and credibility. In some ways, the meaning and spirit of democracy have been buried underneath all the rubble.
To be able to find common ground, work through differences, and make compromises to create the most happiness for the most people, has become a lost art. And so we must ask, what good is democracy if our proclaimed democracy-warriors can't even manage to do that?
A healthy opposition - meaning the pan-democrats - is necessary in a healthy democracy. By constantly competing for the moral high ground, they fail in their moral obligation to be constructive and play a mediating role in times of crises.
When political vanity replaces political purpose, it becomes a self-destructive, morally hazardous process. The halo from obtaining the political and moral high ground gets tarnished; the infighting causes all the contestants to fade into irrelevance. Division does carry the ultimate political price.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA