Wed, Nov 21, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A wake-up call for HK democrats

It seems odd that a strong performance for a pro-Beijing party at the expense of Hong Kong democrats could be a positive sign. Yet this is the case.

Sunday's elections saw the opposition Democratic Party brought down to earth after losing more than 25 percent of their district councilors, with the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) almost doubling its share from the previous election and overwhelming the Democratic Party's haul.

There must be tremendous disappointment in the democratic camp that pro-Beijing parties such as the DAB can prosper in an environment of occasional threats of violence against pro-democracy figures and a ramping up of aggression against democrats in Beijing's mouthpiece media outlets.

But this was a free and fair election -- even if turnout was below 40 percent. The rejection of democratic candidates thus reflected real uninterest or dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party and its activities and will prompt party strategists to rebuild their agenda and methods in line with the needs of local communities.

Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho (何俊仁) himself admitted this, citing the DAB's "strong organization, better electioneering prowess and a more sophisticated election strategy" in comments that were reported by the Standard yesterday.

That is to say, the democrats could learn a thing or two about democratic practice from Beijing's friends in Hong Kong.

Some analysts are now predicting a poor showing for the democrats at the Legislative Council elections next year. But, as with Taiwan, local elections are not always the best place to gauge sentiment on executive performance.

The Democratic Party, like Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party, needs to work harder not only at mobilizing its base but also at making gradual inroads in electorates where it does not enjoy majority support. This is all the more important in polities such as Hong Kong in which economic considerations top the agenda at all times.

The people of Hong Kong have proven themselves pragmatic and uninterested in flights of ideological fancy. Even so, when a critical mass of Hong Kongers get angry and get out on the streets, Beijing notices.

Beijing's equally pragmatic response, in balance, has not been bloody crackdowns but, ironically, investment in the democratic process on the ground, particularly in the DAB's skilled party workers, who delivered handsomely in working class areas this time around.

Hard work, closer communication with voters, innovation and practical policies are the answer. And in time, the cycle will swing back in the Democrats' favor -- no doubt more quickly if the pro-Beijing side treats voters with less than the respect they deserve.

And in one more regard, HK's democrats should find some solace. Taiwan's 2004 presidential election showed that local and national politics can have very different outcomes at the hands of voters who back different parties in different polls.

The cause for gloom in Hong Kong is overstated. If the Democratic Party suffers a tremendous hit over this setback, it will be in large part because of their losing faith in themselves and Hong Kong's voters, and not because of dwindling opportunities.

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