Rift opens among pan-democrats as student activists propose legislators resign

A call by student activists for five legislators to resign as a means of forcing a de facto referendum on electoral reform has been received badly by pan-democrat parties

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 10:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

A plan by the student activists’ group Scholarism for five legislators from pan-democracy parties to quit as a means to trigger another de facto referendum on political reform has received tepid response from pan-democrats.

And a rift seems to be developing among the pan-democrats over the Scholarism plan, which was put forward on Thursday by the student group, apparently without having consulted their political allies.

Major pro-democracy parties have expressed reservations, with some fearing that such action could divert public attention from the camp’s Occupy Central strategy to fight for universal suffrage.

Mirroring a similar move in 2010, the group has called for five pan-democrat politicians to quit, forcing by-elections which it says would be seen as a form of referendum on political reform.

The five would not however be able to join the by-elections because of legal amendments introduced since the 2010 resignations barring lawmakers who resign from standing in a by-election for six months.

Only two of the parties contacted by the South China Morning Post – the radical People Power and League of Social Democrats – have backed the plan.

Democratic Party chairman Emily Lau Wai-hing is apparently upset by Scholarism’s failure to consult her party before announcing its plan.

“They have not discussed with us. We do not even know when and how they would like to do it and what goal they are aiming to achieve,” says Lau, whose party boycotted the 2010 movement.

Similar views were expressed by the Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan, who questioned whether the plan was the right course at this time.

“We are already planning Occupy Central, an electronic civil referendum and the like to press for universal suffrage. We should have a thorough discussion over what we should do and when to do it to get the best results we want,” Lee said.

Fellow unionist legislator Leung Yiu-chung also dismissed Scholarism’s plan as “serving no purpose”. “We will only get criticised for wasting public money on unnecessary by-elections,” he said.

Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong, one of the five who resigned in 2010, also questioned whether the Scholarism plan could fit into the Occupy Central movement.

But People Power legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip says he would have no problem giving up his seat to trigger a by-election. “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, also said he would support Scholarism’s plan.

Leong, Leung, Albert Chan, Tanya Chan and Wong Yuk-man resigned in January 2010 and won the subsequent by-elections.

The campaign was controversial, with the pro-Beijing camp criticising the five for wasting public money. Many also saw the movement a failure, given the low turnout rate of about 17 per cent when some 3.37 million voters were supposedly eligible to vote.

To avoid a repetition of such campaigns the government amended the law in 2012 to bar lawmakers who resign from standing in a by-election for six months.