The Disappearance of the Shadow Cabinet

In the South China Morning Post, Ambrose Leung reported:

Democrats drop plans for shadow cabinet, April 23, 2005.

The Democratic Party leadership yesterday backed down from a plan to form a shadow cabinet that would support party chairman Lee Wing-tat's bid for the post of chief executive. The plan had received lukewarm support from fellow politicians.


After announcing his candidacy last week, Mr Lee's party planned to draft leading figures from the pro-democracy camp to form a shadow cabinet. It would offer the public a credible alternative to acting Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the frontrunner in the race, even though he has not yet declared his candidacy, he said.

But Lee Cheuk-yan, a prominent pro-democracy unionist, said he would not join Mr Lee's team - not because of the amount of time involved in building a platform but because the Democrat had virtually no chance of winning.  Top lawyers from the Article 45 Concern Group also said they would not join a shadow cabinet, creating concerns that Mr Lee's team would comprise only Democratic Party members.

But Ronny Tong Ka-wah of the Article 45 Concern Group tried to allay fears of a split, saying the group would lend support to Mr Lee from behind the scenes.  "Why is there so much pessimism? If you ask me to choose, of course I will choose [Lee Wing-tat], since we have the same stance on democracy," he said.

But discord is emerging within the camp. Some radical legislators, such as "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and Albert Cheng King-hon, said Mr Lee's candidacy would legitimise the small-circle election. 

Compared to the Chinese-language press, this is very mild soft-pedalling.  The South Morning China Post has a centrist position, whereas the Chinese-language press covers a range of political positions.  Here are the bloody details published Wenweipo, Ming Pao and The Sun:

Faced with less than overwhelming receptivity, an alternative has been put in place (SCMP):

Democratic legislator Cheung Man-kwong said the party leadership had decided to act as a team of advisers rather than form a shadow cabinet.  Despite the apparent setback, Mr Lee and his allies said it made no difference whether the group was called a cabinet or a team of advisers.  Speaking after a meeting of pro-democracy legislators, Mr Lee said his bid for chief executive was supported by most democrats, who promised to advise him on major policy areas.  "What name the group is called is not important. What is important is that they promised to work together - which will be the driving force of my work," Mr Lee said.

 Wenweipo was more blunt about this sharp turn:

Lee Wing-tat's attempt to form a shadow cabinet was aborted before it even began.  But in order to hide the shameful sight of the lack of unity within the so-called pan-democratic camp, they refused to acknowledge that the cabinet idea is defunct.  So they came up with the name "team of advisers."  Insiders snorted in contempt, and characterized this as "even though you fell down on the ground, you claim that you got a handful of sand out of it." (簡直是跌落地執番堆沙)  Being an adviser means that you don't have to do a thing and you can still get some media exposure for political capital in future elections.

An insider said: "Many of the members of the Article 45 Concern Group are more qualified to run than Lee Wing-tat, but they don't.  All they do is to complain on the side and offer various opinions.  Actually, they just want Lee to stick himself out there and get crushed." (45條關注組內有好多人比李永達更合資格參選,點解佢瓊唔去選,成日在背後指手劃腳,意見多多,講到尾只是想推達仔去死。)

It will do well to recall the list of hurdles listed by blogger ShiuShiu (translated in The Pan-Democrats and the Chief Executive Election in Hong Kong).  If anyone in the pan-demcratic camp were to contest this election, his/her performance will reflect on the competency of the entire pan-democratic camp.  This is really not a good start.  Donald Tsang has not even declared his candidacy, and the pan-democracy camp is in disarray already.  This is a good lesson, though: it is a serious mistake to build the cabinet from the stars of the Legislative Council, as running government bureaucracies may not be their core competence.  The problem is that the pan-democratic camp does not have a list of qualified people that they can name for the cabinet positions.  At this time, there are qualified people but none will risk to be named as it would be career suicide.

(SCMP)  You cannot be serious, Democrats chief told.  By Ambrose Leung.  April 30, 2005.

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat was forced on to the defensive yesterday when unveiling his new platform for the chief executive election - after a colleague described it as "rubbish" and "meaningless".  Mr Lee - who is the only candidate to have declared he will stand for election on July 10 - defended his platform, saying it would qualify him as a viable alternative to be Hong Kong's next leader. 

At a weekly meeting of pro-democracy legislators, independent Albert Chan Wai-yip criticised Mr Lee's expanded platform and said he should instead concentrate on exposing the undemocratic nature of the election process.  "This platform is rubbish. It should have focused on exposing the ridiculous small-circle election. It is meaningless even if it has 200 pages, since Lee Wing-tat has not a chance of winning," Mr Chan said.  He said that since the aim of the Democrats joining the race was to raise public awareness of the fact only the 800-member Election Committee would be able to take part in the election, Mr Lee should not spend time drafting a detailed policy platform, which might give people the impression he was lending legitimacy to the election.  "His platform should tell the public of the blunders Donald Tsang made in the past eight years, and highlight how many people went bankrupt and committed suicide during Tung Chee-hwa's reign, which Tsang is also a part of," Mr Chan said.

But Mr Lee said his platform would show that he was a viable alternative.  "I know many pro-democracy colleagues have different opinions, but as well as showing the inadequacies of the electoral system and Donald Tsang's own problems, I have to show people that I stand for something," Mr Lee said.

He said the expanded version of his platform was supported by most pro-democracy politicians.  Among other pledges, he promises to defend Hong Kong's autonomy, introduce universal suffrage by 2007 and lobby for the city's interests in Beijing. Mr Lee said Hong Kong would maintain a low-tax business environment while increasing its competitiveness.