Of all the findings of an internal study by the Democratic Party on the causes of its lacklustre performance in the September Legislative Council elections, the most alarming is the fact that one third of 95 party members who responded to a questionnaire said they would not openly admit their membership and did not feel proud about being members. As the party has more than 600 members and only about 130 answered the survey, it is difficult to say how many more feel ashamed of their party membership. But for a party which has consistently topped the popularity ratings, the finding shows it has a serious morale problem. This lamentable state of affairs is blamed on a serious rift between rival factions. For the past few years, the so-called mainstream faction led by the party's legislators has been pitted against the so-called 'Young Turks', most of whom play no role in council business and have been agitating for more radical actions to force through social changes outside the establishment. The rift came to a head when a member of the 'Young Turks', Tsang Kin-shing, withdrew from the party and stood as an independent - and lost - after failing to be endorsed as a Democratic Party candidate in the last election. Although most Democrat candidates managed to win seats, the party estimated that 170,000 people who had voted for it in 1998 had cast their votes to other candidates in September. Many of them gave their votes to independents or candidates from other parties in the pro-democracy camp, and that was seen by the party as evidence that its basic principles of upholding democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law still have a wide following. As shown by the victory of barrister Audrey Eu Yuet-mee in last week's by-election, that interpretation may not be far off the mark. Although a novice in electoral politics, Ms Eu won overwhelmingly on a platform of upholding human rights and the rule of law, even though her main rival, Christopher Chung Shu-kun, has the solid backing of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, whose popular vote in September went up despite a scandal involving its former vice-chairman Gary Cheng Kai-nam. The Democratic Party has vowed to resolve its internal problems, strengthen policy research, enhance district liaison work, and take steps to nurture successors to the current leadership. All those should certainly be done if the party is to arrest further erosion of its support base.