Against the backdrop of the immigration building at Lo Wu and popular tourist attractions in Shenzhen, four second-generation hopefuls of the Democratic Party are performing political theatrics in a music video. The performance is part of the party's publicity campaign for the Legislative Council election in September. Propagating the theme of ushering in a new era and new generation, the so-called DP4 (Democratic Party Four) are racing against time to boost their popularity and media exposure, and hone their skills as they gear up for the election. The four are Kam Nai-wai from the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency; Wu Chi-wai in Kowloon East; Wong Sing-chi from New Territories East and Cheung Yin-tung of New Territories West. With the imminent retirement of several first-generation leaders, including Martin Lee Chu-ming and Yeung Sum, the DP4, all in their 40s, have been identified as the potential torch-bearers of the trouble-plagued party for the next election, if not for the next decade. The path of succession is paved with contradictions and uncertainties as manifested in a controversy over the party's plan for Hong Kong Island. From the outset, it was a show of unity when Mr Kam, a long-time Democrat in Central and Western District Council, embraced vice-chairman Sin Chung-kai after the latter decided not to contest Hong Kong Island. The unexpected move by Mr Sin, who is tipped to succeed the retiring Albert Ho Chun-yan as party chairman, has avoided a split within the party - at the price of a veil of uncertainty over his own political career. With the party's Hong Kong Island branch fully behind Mr Kam, the candidacy of Mr Sin - who had the backing of a mainstream faction comprised of first-tier leaders - looked set to trigger a fresh round of infighting. Asked about the implications of the row, Mr Ho put on a brave face. 'I won't call it controversy,' he said. 'It's a good thing. There are members coming out to compete for the party's endorsement of their candidacy. It's also normal when differences are made open. We don't expect members to be obedient towards whatever the leaders have to say. This is not our culture and style. 'The important thing is that we have a mechanism to resolve the problem ... Mr Sin could prefer his candidacy being put to a vote at a general meeting. It won't necessarily cause severe damage to the party,' Mr Ho said. 'This is traditional Chinese thinking that we all should obey authority. Look at the Democratic Party's primary election in the United States. Do people find anything wrong with having Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competing against each other?' Mr Ho said it was unfair to single out the Democrats over the problem of an ageing leadership and to challenge the ability of their second-tier members to contest Legco seats. 'The problem of ageing leadership in the Liberal Party, for instance, is more serious than ours. Kam Nai-wai has done a lot of work in Hong Kong Island over the years. With full support from the party, he could win,' Mr Ho said. Other assessments of Mr Kam's chances in Hong Kong Island, where six seats are up for grabs, are mixed. Polls show he is far behind leading candidates such as Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee as well as Tsang Yok-sing of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the Savantas Institute. Ma Ngok, an associate professor of government and administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Mr Kam would be able to win a seat given the party's election machinery and long-time district work in Hong Kong Island. Dr Lo Chi-kin, a veteran party member, said the controversy over the Hong Kong Island battle could have been avoided if the leadership had an early, clear succession plan and strategy. With hindsight, there would have been plenty of time for all aspirants to fight for an endorsement of their candidacy if Martin Lee and Yeung Sum had made clear after their success in the 2004 election that it would be their last term, he said. 'It's a good thing for veteran legislators to retire to make way for new faces. The process of rejuvenation should be speeded up,' Dr Lo said. 'With its market share dropping and new product, strategy and gimmicks lacking, it is impossible for the Democratic Party - in its present form - to get a new life. 'The merits of letting new faces run the show is that they may have new ideas and ways of doing things. New dynamics will emerge within the party. You won't know the result unless you give it a try. It's a gamble. But it's worth taking.' Dr Lo said that the longer the progress of rejuvenation was allowed to drag on, the greater the danger of further decline. 'It's not the end of the world if the party fails to keep a seat' in each of the five geographical constituencies, Dr Lo said. 'It will be worse if the party loses its fighting spirit.' Following the retirements of Mr Lee and Mr Yeung, it is understood the pace of succession will be quickened after the Legco election in 2012, with another batch of veteran Democrats expected to stand down (assuming they are re-elected in September's Legco poll). They include Mr Ho, Cheung Man-kwong, Lee Wing-tat and Fred Li Wah-ming. With the succession plan largely completed by 2016, the theory goes, the party leadership will be in a better position to prepare for universal suffrage for the chief executive and all members of the legislature by 2017 and 2020 respectively. At a time when the mood for change in Hong Kong politics was in the air, Professor Ma said, the Democrats faced a more urgent need for new blood at the top. 'The plain truth is that the historical circumstances in which the first-generation Democrats rose to fame no longer exist,' Professor Ma said. 'They gained popularity through the democratic movement in the 1980s and the June 4 crackdown. The political capital they accumulated since then has become depreciated. 'The relevance of those political events to young voters is decreasing. For my students, it's down to nearly zero.' Carrying the banners of political groups such as the Hong Kong Affairs Society, the United Democrats and the Meeting Point in the mid-80s, veteran Democrats such as Mr Lee and Mr Yeung were in the vanguard of the democratic movement, which peaked in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The United Democrats and Meeting Point merged to form the Democratic Party in 1994 following their landslide victory in the maiden Legco direct election in 1991. However, the steady decline in the party's fortunes since 2000 shows no signs of abating. Now holding nine Legco seats, the party may be down to seven in the next Legco, pundits say. Following Beijing's decision to grant a timetable on universal suffrage, the days of the 'democracy card' in elective politics were numbered, Professor Ma said. He said the second-tier Democrats were ambiguous in their political stance, which would allow more flexibility in the party's positioning and political approach. Unlike veterans such as Mr Yeung, he said, second-generation leaders such as Kam Nai-wai and Wu Chi-wai had no deep connections with the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, which has remained a point of friction in the Democrats' relations with Beijing since its inception in the aftermath of the 1989 protests. 'After the election in September, there will probably be more profoundly interesting changes within the pan-democratic camp,' said Professor Ma. Already there have been calls from senior Democrats, including Mr Lee and Mr Sin for discussion on a Democrats-Civic Party merger. Wu Chi-wai, one of the DP4 who made headlines when he polled the most votes in the District Council election in November, said he and most second-tier members were open-minded about the party's development. Mr Wu will contest a separate list in Kowloon East in September. Incumbent Fred Li Wah-ming will lead another list. 'Our political system is not conducive to the development of political parties,' Mr Wu said. 'Hong Kong people also attach more importance to personality than political party. As a second-tier member, I won't say lightly that we are able to succeed our first-tier leaders. But in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the winds of change are apparent. People want to see the emergence of new faces and the retirement of old names. We will stand a chance of turning the corner if we are able to show our ability and strengths through the election campaign.' Mr Wu said he would emphasise livelihood issues such as welfare and cross-border integration in his campaign, while his Democrat colleague Fred Li would run a more political agenda. He stressed there would be a difference of emphasis in the campaign, but not on the fundamentals such as democracy and human rights that defined the party. 'I have never had an ounce of doubt about my ability and knowledge in policy issues,' Mr Wu said. 'In terms of dealing with media and getting a sound bite, I still have a lot to learn ... I will give everything for my campaign not to let the party and my supporters down.'