COMRADES-in-arm in the 80s, Frederick Fung Kin-kee and Lee Wing-tat fought shoulder to shoulder over everything from democracy to the right to own a decent flat. The pair were among the four who represented the local political groups on the now-defunct Basic Law Consultative Committee. Mr Fung's candidacy had the support of leading Democrat Szeto Wah, who was then a Basic Law drafter. But this long-time comradeship is now on the brink of collapse. This week, the political parties they headed - the Democratic Party and the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADLP) - found themselves on opposing sides over the election of office-bearers in the two municipal councils. Mr Lee, an elected regional councillor, said he was disappointed that the ADPL, chaired by Mr Fung, over its repeated refusal to join forces with the other Democrats in the regional body. ADPL members in the council again abstained in the Thursday elections for its committees in which the Democrats were eyeing the chairmanship. The discord between the two major parties in the liberal camp came just days after their failure to compromise at the elections for chairman and vice-chairman of the Urban Council (Urbco) and Regional Council (Regco). The ADPL faction, which holds six votes in Urbco, decided not to support Democrats' nominee Fred Li Wah-ming as a vice-chairman. Li was defeated by Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) leader Yip Kwok-chung by 20 votes to 15. The ADPL says it would only give its backing in exchange for the Democrats' undertaking not to compete with the ADPL for the Urbco seat to the Legislative Council in September. Formed in 1986, the ADPL with a membership of not more than 200, sees itself as a moderate liberal force. Mr Fung and his followers believe they hold the balance in the local political scene with much room for manoeuvre thanks to the rivalry between the two major forces - the Democrats and the pro-China DAB. Emboldened by their success in the District Board polls in September and the March municipal elections, the party has attempted to widen its influence from its strongholds of Shamshuipo and Kwai Ching districts. A few more voices in the next Legco is the next logical step. This week's bickering is the curtain-raiser to more behind-the-scenes bargaining in the run-up to the September polls. Deputy chairman of the Democrats, Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, seen to be a moderate, has attempted to play down the dispute. He rejected allegations that the party traded in its principles for political gains by backing Mr Lam Wai-keung from the conservative rural forces in the contest for chairmanship at the Regco election on Monday. Mr Lam won, defeating another rural leader Liu Ching-leung and ADPL vice-chairman Leung Kwong-cheung. 'As members serving under the same roof of the Regco, there are occasions when we should work together, particularly when we come to the committee level which deals with specifics on the improvements of people's living environment,' Mr Cheung said. 'There are differences between us and Mr Lam over specific rural issues such as the rights of the female villagers. Despite such differences, we have to face each other in the council and unless we are confident of grabbing the chairmanship, we have to cast our vote after a thorough consideration of the power distribution.' Another core Democratic Party leader conceded that their support for Mr Lam's candidacy was imperative to get reciprocal backing for colleague Chow Yick-hay in the race for the vice-chairman in the council. The Lam-Chow ticket won. The Democrats' partnership with the conservative rural forces and the ADPL's siding with the DAB has baffled some party members as well as their loyal supporters. Lau Shan-ching, a long-time advocate of radical democracy, said the secret deal signalled a dangerous trend; politicians would be ready to give up their professed principles in exchange for seats. 'This could be very damaging to the development of democracy,' Mr Lau said. 'They have ignored their principles by throwing their support behind the conservative rural force, I think they owe their voters an explanation.' Critics also warned that collaboration with the DAB was a dangerous game. An outspoken ADPL member Daniel Wong Kwok-tung likened the blessings of pro-China groups as the 'fruit of the poisonous tree'. Mr Wong has tendered his resignation as the party's secretary-general. He refused to admit that there were deals between ADPL and the pro-China forces. But he conceded that the ADPL would be forced to side with the conservative camp if its member won the Urbco seat on Legco with the support of the pro-China force. 'We would be forced to toe their line; this is so embarrassing and ugly. 'The indirect election is a very complicated matter, it is not necessarily wrong to strike a deal with others, but you've got to see who your partner is.' Mr Wong urged the two parties to re-consider the merger plan, which was struck down last year because of failure to agree on the status of the ADPL. 'After all these hassles, we have to look ahead to ways to strengthen our ties. The new party has been operating for quite some time and it is time we examined the chances of merging again.' The cracks between the two parties had already surfaced when the ADPL was shut out of the talks between the former United Democrats and the Meeting Point for the new flagship Democratic Party last year. The appointment of Mr Fung as a Hong Kong Affairs Adviser in March last year further helped divide the two sides and highlight their differences over how to deal with China. Ideology differences aside, a leading Democrat believes common interest will bring the two parties together in the Legco polls. 'If the ADPL does not compromise, they might lose everything [in the direct elections]. The Democratic Party will also suffer. It will also benefit the DAB. We have to see clearly who the major enemies are.'