Infighting threatens pro-democracy camp

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am

Fierce infighting among the pan-democratic candidates in the Legislative Council election was inevitable after the nomination period closed. But few people anticipated that the jockeying for seats could turn ugly and become potentially damaging to the whole camp as the campaign heated up.

As in previous polls, there were clashes between democrats and government allies in election forums.

Yet the war of words among pro-democracy candidates has proved much more bitter than anticipated. While spicing up the race, it has created an air of uncertainty over the election results.

In Kowloon East, scathing attacks by Andrew To Kwan-hang, of the League of Social Democrats, against the Democratic Party and the Civic Party have prompted candidates from those two parties to call on Mr To not to fire salvos at the wrong targets.

Mr To has accused the Democrats of wrongly backing the government's move to privatise the Link Reit investment trust, thus paving the way for hefty rent rises in public housing commercial and parking facilities. In Kowloon West, League of Social Democrats chairman Wong Yuk-man has lambasted the Civic Party's Claudia Mo Man-ching in the same way he did the candidates from the pro-Beijing, pro-government flagship party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Mr Wong accused the Civic Party of applying double standards in its fight for democracy, and being elitist.

The tirades from the League of Social Democrats, a radical wing in the pan-democratic force, have apparently taken their toll on the two other major democratic parties, in particular the Civic Party's candidates.

Results of roving polls conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme show a steady rise in Mr Wong's popularity and a fall in Ms Mo's vote share. Civic Party candidates contesting the Kowloon East and Hong Kong Island geographical constituencies have also seen a decline in support.

With the number of geographical constituency seats capped at 30, out of a total of 60 in the legislature, there is limited room for political parties, particularly newly formed groups such as the League of Social Democrats, to win seats.

With little chance of getting votes from the pool of supporters for the pro-establishment candidates, it is understandable why the League of Social Democrats has targeted pro-democracy voters.

True, the league, the Democrats and the Civic Party are sharply divided over questions like whether they should participate in the functional constituency elections.

With polls showing it is still behind the frontrunners, the league has few alternatives but to sharpen its attacks on the two other democratic parties.

Doing so might help grab enough votes in the marginal seats in hotly contested constituencies, such as Kowloon West and Kowloon East.

This election aside, the scramble also reflects the fact that no single political issue, such as democracy or the Beijing fear factor, has stood out in the election campaign. In the past, such issues have provided an easy target for the democrats to snatch votes from their pro-Beijing, pro-government rivals.

With or without the candidacies of non-mainstream democrats, the pan-democratic camp will remain divided. To agree to disagree is part and parcel of a free and democratic society. But democrats risk losing it all if voters find they are not offering better policies in the overall interests of society, but are merely after the seats out of their own self-interest.

Excessive infighting and smear tactics will harm the whole pro-democracy force and dampen the enthusiasm of voters when they cast their ballots on Sunday.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.