Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy political party has authorised its central committee to handle election matters for December’s legislative race following a special members’ meeting. It comes after months of debate over whether the Democratic Party should participate in the revamped, restrictive poll, amid pressure from the authorities to participate.

On Sunday, the party decided to allow the central committee to set up a procedure whereby those who would like to run in the Legislative Council (LegCo) election will have to inform the committee of their intention.

The Democratic Party. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Chairperson of the Democratic Party Lo Kin-hei said that, should there be anyone wishing to run, the central committee will call another general meeting to allow members to raise questions about potential candidates.

The general meeting will also decide on whether those people will be allowed to take part in the election. If no one informs the party that they wish to run, the Democratic Party will not send any candidates in December, said Lo.

The chairperson added that, while the decision reached in Sunday’s meeting does not determine whether they will send candidates in the race, it will ensure that the party would fulfil procedural requirements: “I believe you all have an expectation that we will have a more concrete decision today, but I’m sorry that – in meeting today – we wanted the party to run more smoothly, and ensure that we can follow our procedures,” said Lo. “That’s why we decided to hand [the matter] to the central committee to see if anyone would actually like to run.”

Responding to a reporter’s question over whether the decision deviated from Lo’s comments in recent months saying that the party will make a firm decision, the chair said that “key thinking” from the meeting was that “since there was no one taking a stance [on whether to run], why do we have to make a decision?”

Chairperson of the Democratic Party Lo Kin-hei. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

When asked if it placed the responsibility and pressure on potential candidates, the chair said that the party would not allow someone who does not want responsibility to take part in elections.

“I think this is a tradition of the Democratic Party in the past, where those running in elections should bear more – if those who want to take part in elections think that the party will pave a way and they would just walk on it, it’s impossible.”

Overhauled election

The party’s discussion on whether to participate in the LegCo election attracted comments from both the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps, after the city’s electoral systems saw a sweeping overhaul in May, when lawmakers passed a bill first drafted by Beijing to ensure only “patriots” govern Hong Kong.

The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity.

However, Lo said after the bill was passed that the party was “unhappy and disappointed” with the changes, and that representation of the people in the Legislative Council was now much less than before. 

Ex-chair of the party Emily Lau wrote in May in the now-defunct Apple Daily that, if the Democratic Party decides to run – even if the majority of Hong Kong citizens objects to it – it would be equivalent to “committing suicide.”

Pressure to participate

Lo also said in May that “some people from the pro-establishment camp or from the mainland” had reached out to him and his party members to persuade them to run in the legislative election.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Since then, the party has come under pressure from pro-Beijing figures and some veteran members to field candidates.

Lo Man-tuen, vice-chair of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, said in early September that the party might be in violation of the national security law if they forced members not to run in upcoming elections.

The pro-Beijing figure also said that Democratic Party members who wanted to run in the election should “set up their own shop,” if the party insists on “embracing the route of radical resistance.”

May interview with HKFP.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said in August that it would be “strange” if a political party did not discuss, debate or participate in politics, and that one might – as a result – question their value.

The Democratic Party also faced pressure from its own members. Fred Li, one of the founding members, said in an interview with the Hong Kong Economic Journal published last Wednesday that the Democratic Party should contest the election and disband if it decided otherwise.

According to Stand News, Li spoke to reporters after the meeting and said that, while he expected the situation in the meeting to be “very bad” and that he would be “attacked,” there were no personal attacks in the meeting and that people had an enthusiastic discussion.

Li also said that he was “surprised” by the meeting’s discussion as it “turned out a lot of people supported” him, and that “he was not alone.”

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.