Hong Kong’s two largest opposition parties have heeded localists’ calls to allow residents to decide whether their lawmakers should serve out their terms – recently extended by Beijing – as a way of bridging a deepening rift within the camp.
The authorities’ decision to let incumbent lawmakers remain in office for at least a year following the postponement of September’s Legislative Council elections has triggered an internal split, with most pan-democrats inclined to stay and localists arguing for a collective boycott of an extended term they say violates democratic principles.
In a bid for unity, the Democratic Party announced on Thursday Hongkongers would decide the fate of its seven legislators through a citywide survey carried out before September 30, when the current Legco term expires.
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The Democrats’ plan was quickly supported by the Civic Party, which is inclined to see its legislators serve out their terms, and two localist incumbents who have called for a boycott. The two parties have 12 out of the 22 lawmakers in the opposition.
“The intensifying controversies have been wearing down the solidarity we built over the past year, causing rifts within the camp,” said Lam Cheuk-ting, a democrat and legislator from New Territories East. “We have to unite together to resist the Communist Party’s suppression in Hong Kong.”
Do you want those evil bills to be passed in three minutes without dissenting voices or attention from the public, or do you want us to continue with our resistance in the chamber?
Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting from New Territories East
In seeking public support, the party also plans to hold at least one open debate with those calling for a boycott, hoping residents would understand “the serious consequences if this battle ground were given up”.
“Do you want those evil bills to be passed in three minutes without dissenting voices or attention from the public, or do you want us to continue with our resistance in the chamber?” Lam said.
Endorsing the idea of an independent poll, Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said he and its other four legislators would abide by the results.
“Under the national security law, it’s very difficult to continue to work on the [street and international] front lines,” Yeung said. “So Legco remains one of the few important battlefields. We understand that even if we have the best logic, this is not going to work if we stay without the people’s mandate.”
Lawmakers from both parties vowed to liaise with activists outside the chamber on strategies to block controversial bills pushed by the government in the coming year.
Opposition lawmakers have found themselves in a dilemma as the local government offered to extend their current terms after China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, endorsed a resolution to delay the elections. That offer extended even to four legislators already barred from seeking re-election.
Views in the accountancy sector were divided, according to a poll of 1,500 members including registered voters carried out earlier this week and released by Kenneth Leung, one of the four disqualified incumbents. The survey found 51 per cent agreed he should stay, 44 per cent disagreed and 6 per cent were neutral.
As the Post understands, narrowing the rift by a large-scale opinion poll exercise was discussed in the camp’s previous internal meetings. But traditional pan-democrats were “not keen on the proposal” until localist and incumbent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick publicly appealed on Sunday to resolve the division through a poll or referendum.
Opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong inclined to serve in Legislative Council for extended term, despite plea to boycott
On Thursday, Chu and People Power chairman Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, an incumbent who had backed the collective boycott, welcomed the latest move.
Chu said it was a step towards reaching a consensus for the whole camp, while Chan said he would reconsider his stance if the majority voted for lawmakers to stay.
“If only two of us are leaving, there won’t be any impact as it’s not a collective boycott,” he said.
Meanwhile, young localists continued to push for new forms of collaboration after the pan-democrats issued a joint statement on Monday indicating they were inclined to retain their seats.
Ventus Lau Wing-hong, who outperformed the opposition camp’s traditional factions in a July primary, called on incumbents to hire him and other primary winners as assistants for the extended term, granting them critical roles key in the decision-making process.
The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute is expected to release its own survey on Friday asking whether opposition lawmakers should stay for the extended term.
The pollster’s deputy chief executive officer, Chung Kim-wah, told the Post it was not a conclusive, citywide survey done by random sampling, but rather an indicative online one involving 30,000 respondents taken from a pool of more than 100,000 who had signed up.
Chung said the Democratic Party had contacted his institute to explore commissioning it for the survey.
The Democrats said the institute’s own survey could be used only for reference, as the sampling was not based on the entire population.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong’s deputy leader urges opposition lawmakers to ‘let go of their prejudices’ and serve out extended Legco term
- Hong Kong elections: Cheng Chung-tai becomes first opposition lawmaker to reveal he will serve out Legislative Council’s extended term