In an increasingly polarized society, a third path breathes in fresh air

In the midst of the fight for democracy, social angst, and an admittedly unsuccessful political reform in Hong Kong, the city sees a perpetual polarization among its dwellers – if you’re not pro-Beijing, you’re pro-democracy. It’s a dichotomy, there is no middle ground, or so it seems.

However, the latest episodes of the Legislative Council beg to differ, with the evidence of the Legislative Council’s most recent voting results which illustrate legislators’ take on different motions. It is epitomized by Civic Party co-founder Ronny Tong’s resignation from the party.

“Ronny Tong Enlarged” by Andrew Tse – This file has been extracted from another file: Ronny Tong.jpg.. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Traditionally, legislators in Hong Kong are separated into two camps, either the pro-Beijing camp, otherwise known as the pro-establishment, or its opposite, the pan-democrats, which support “One country, two systems” and demand universal suffrage. With the occurrence of the Occupy Central movement and the political developments that followed, remarks that political parties are becoming more radical are prevalent.

The Civic Party, a professional-based pan-democratic party much supported by lawyers and other professionals, have been thought to have become more radical. Despite not taking part in the filibustering movement, many, including Tong himself, have found its increasingly non-cooperative, confrontational attitude against the government unlike its earlier days. Tong’s resignation from the Party last month was mainly points to his view  that instead of sticking to its ideals, the Party has become obsessed with winning votes.

Civic Party members (from left to right) Audrey Eu, Alan Leong, Claudia Mo and Tanya Chan pose at a Civic Party press conference. “Civic Party Press Con 05.02.2015” by Iris Tong Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

In 2013, having set up a scholars-driven think tank, Path of Democracy, which proposes moderate democratic alternatives and seeks to improve strained relations with Beijing, Tong put forward a political Reform Package framework in which sees democracy and “One country, two systems” are in no conflict with each other.

In TVB Straight Talk, the former legislator said that there is a third and more moderate way for Hong Kong, that the silent majority of Hong Kong don’t believe in confrontation. The think tank seeks to find ways for the implementation of democracy under “one country, two systems” and anticipates a visit to Beijing later this year.

Ronny Tong might be the person speaking for a third and more moderate way for Hong Kong, but in the Legislative Council, there seems to be a few more political parties walking down the third way.

Pro-labour parties the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions are traditionally known to be patriotic and pro-Beijing. Yet with its pro-labour appeal in which safeguards the rights of employees and provides a variety of welfare benefits, recent data  (Legco votes 2014-15) have shown that when it comes to livelihood and economic issues, such as standard working hours, their votes in Legco tend to go with the pan-democrats. The data is similar to that in 2012-13.

Another political party, the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, have shown similar behaviour. The ADPL traditionally belongs to the pan-democratic camp, but unlike its counterparts that are deemed increasingly radical, their emphasis on livelihood issues, such as profits and salary taxes, have set them slightly apart from  their counterparts. In 2012, the Association supported the controversial electoral reform package, which consequently resulted in the additional 5 seats in the Legislative Council, otherwise known as the District Council (second) Functional Constituencies.

And so it seems that despite having an increasingly polarized society, Hong Kong is open to a third and more moderate way for democracy. Whether or not this will stay on the table is still early to tell, but for the pragmatic Hong Kong native, if the third way shows promising results, perhaps this path will breathe some fresh air to a stagnant society of dichotomy.

Here’s a cheat sheet of the political parties in the 2014-2015 session of the Legislative Council

Pro-establishment Camp

Pan-democratic Camp

  • The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (centrist)
  • Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (pro-business, functional constituency)
  • Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (pro-labour, patriotic)
  • Liberal Party (pro-business, economic liberal, liberal conservative)
  • New People’s Party (middle class, civil servant)
  • Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions (labour functional constituency)
  • New Century Forum (middle class)
  • Democratic Party (centrist, social liberal)
  • Civic Party (professional-based)
  • Labour Party (pro-labour)
  • People Power (radical)
  • Professional Commons (professional based, professional functional constituencies)
  • League of Social Democrats
  • Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (pro-grassroots, moderate)
  • Neighborhood and Worker’s Service Centre (pro-grassroots)
  • Neo Democrats (nativist)

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