Democrats must rekindle the Ko Shan spirit
Twenty two years ago, veteran Democrat Szeto Wah and the Professional Teachers' Union he chaired led a rally of pressure groups, religious groups and community organisations in the Ko Shan Theatre in Hung Hom. Their demand for direct elections for the Legislative Council in 1988 ushered in Hong Kong's crusade for democracy.
The Ko Shan rally has become a milestone in the history of the city's democratic movement, symbolising the unity and inclusiveness, conviction and commitment of democracy advocates. Today, there is a feeling of nostalgia among some veteran democracy activists as the movement enters a new phase, following the National People's Congress Standing Committee decision on universal suffrage.
If the Ko Shan rally is to have a degree of relevance in the final laps of the democracy race, it is in the importance of rebuilding a united, inclusive pro-democracy camp to make the final push for genuine universal suffrage by no later than 2017 for the chief executive and 2020 for all legislators.
This will prove increasingly important when differences within the pan-democratic camp surface over their stance on universal suffrage in the wake of the Standing Committee decision. The League of Social Democrats, which represents the radical wing in the camp, is standing firm on demanding universal suffrage in 2012. Newly elected legislator Anson Chan Fang On-sang has indicated that she would compromise on the electoral arrangements in 2012 if they lead to genuine universal suffrage in 2017 and 2020.
With the feelings of anger and despair about the Standing Committee decision wearing thin following the January 13 rally, the pan-democratic force must confront the fresh challenge of adjusting their game plan to reflect the profound change in Hong Kong's political scene.
In an article in Ming Pao Daily, a founding member of the Democratic Party, Lo Chi-kin, urged the democrats and their supporters who hold different views to openly debate the way forward.
'Through the process, different ideas will clash and interact. Ordinary people who hold different views will be able to respond and reflect on the process. A mature discussion may not necessarily result in a consensus conclusion. But it will enhance the maturity of people and enable different factions to become more accommodating and mature,' Dr Lo said.
Now that even the government has spoken of the importance of community engagement, he said the pan-democratic camp should consider how to re-engage supporters and the wider community in the next phase of democratic development.
Dr Lo's call could not be a more timely reminder to the democrats as they face the delicate task of reconciling their differences over their stance on the Standing Committee decision while ensuring that the promise of universal suffrage is realised.
People's complex, contradictory feelings towards Beijing's ruling on universal suffrage have manifested themselves in opinion polls. One found that more than 70 per cent of respondents accepted Beijing's decision. Yet the same survey also showed that about 40 per cent want to see universal suffrage in 2012.
Given the width of the political spectrum in the pan-democratic camp, it sounds unrealistic to expect a consensus among the various factions. An open debate among the democrats and their supporters on the way forward, no matter how candid, is not likely to resolve deeply seated differences.
But the process will prove to be equally, if not more, important than the result. It will create a new platform for the democrats to reconnect with their like-minded allies. This will broaden their pool of supporters, in order to enter the next stage of the democratic movement in the spirit of the Ko Shan rally 22 years ago.
Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.