The Democratic Party in Hong Kong has seen growing infighting among members, after its vice-chairman and its former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat quit the city for the UK last week.
Members of the largest pro-democracy party in the city gave mixed responses to Lee’s unexpected departure to London last Friday evening. It was first reported by state-run newspaper Wei Wei Po – with several photos of the veteran democrat at Hong Kong’s airport – and later confirmed by his wife Josephine Chan.
Party chair Lo Kin-hei had said he would try to touch base with Lee, adding that the vice-chief had not resigned from this role.
A Facebook post on the page of ex-legislator Lam Cheuk-ting – who has been in custody since late February pending trial under the national security law – showed support for Lee’s decision to quit the city: “I have known Lee Wing-tat for 20 years. I believe in his character. He must have his reasons for leaving,” an administrator of Lam’s page wrote.
Lam said that, as the date for submitting nominations to run in the delayed Legislative Council election nears, he believed an “extremely small number of people” in the Democratic Party would “embrace” Beijing’s revamped electoral system for the city.
Lam’s remarks came days after a fellow party member So Yat-hang wrote on Facebook saying “Tell people to go forward, while escaping yourself.” Local media reported that another Democratic Party vice-chair Edith Leung made a post on Instagram that was restricted to “close friends,” which read “Irresponsible, ridiculous.” The comments made by district councillors So and Leung were suspected to be about Lee’s departure.
On Monday, another detained democrat Andrew Wan cited So’s comment and said the person who made this comment was “the most unqualified to speak.” He said while he did not know what threats Lee may be facing, he wanted the vice-chairman to be safe: “I don’t know what situation or threats [Lee Wing-tat] is facing, but I only have worries and blessings in my heart. I hope he is safe,” Wan said.
Without naming So or Leung, ex-lawmaker Wan went on to berate Lee’s critics for “not sharing the burdens of the party” and “chiselling a sinking ship.”
“You have always been an opportunist, your stance have been fluctuating… if you are so tough, you should not have proposed to [join] the ‘improved’ elections,” Wan said on Facebook through his page administrator.
The post saw several hashtags at the bottom, including “I am very restrained for not disclosing the names and not saying profanity” and “how many vice-chairs does the party have.”
Lee was the second high-profile figure of the Democratic Party to leave Hong Kong. Ex-legislator Ted Hui quit the party and fled the city last December while facing several criminal charges. He is currently based in Adelaide, Australia, in a bid to “expand international lobbying efforts” on behalf of the city’s pro-democracy movement.
The embattled party has seen some of its core members including Lam, Wan, Wu Chi-wai and Andrew Chiu being held custody as they await trial along 43 pro-democracy figures for an alleged conspiracy to commit subversion, linked to an unofficial legislative primary election held last July.
Two of its former chairmen – Albert Ho and Yeung Sum – are also currently behind bars for convictions linked to the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests.
Lee, who was once the leader of the Democratic Party, had kept a low profile in recent years until June, when he was elected as the vice-chief. The party has been grappling with issues such as resignation from the district councils in light of a new government allegiance oath, as well as whether to take part in the legislative polls in December following a Beijing-steered electoral overhaul that drastically decreased democratic representative in the legislature.
The detained party members and Lee had stated the party should not participate in the revamped elections, while local media cited sources as saying Leung and So were inclined to join. The party is set to make a final decision in a general meeting in September.
The election revamp bill, first proposed by the Central government in March to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong, will reduce the proportion of directly elected lawmakers in the legislature, tighten control of elections, and introduce a vetting mechanism to screen candidates.