Hong Kong's most radical political party, the League of Social Democrats, has split apart after months of "dog-eat-dog" infighting. After attending a meeting with about 600 members and supporters yesterday, two of the party's co-founders - Raymond "Mad Dog" Wong Yuk-man and Albert "Big Guy" Chan Wai-yip - resigned from the four-year-old league because of their outrage at the present leadership. At least 100 other members filed their resignations at the end of the two-hour meeting. The league has around 1,000 members.
Big Guy (left) and Mad Dog (right)
The split comes less than a year after Andrew To Kwan-hang took over the helm from Wong last January. "Most people present supported our decision to quit," Wong said. "We hold a very different view from the leadership." Earlier, To said he has personal reservations about punishing the Democratic Party for backing the administration's electoral reforms package.
Wong also said he and some members are dissatisfied with the decision by the leaders to set up two companies without the prior approval of the executive committee. Wong said he and Chan felt the infighting had become too hostile. As an example, Wong said member Edward Yum Liang-hsien, who is embattled in sex scandals, is being unfairly treated by those in power even though he has been neither charged nor convicted. Yum was arrested for alleged rape and indecent assault last month and is now on bail. He was at yesterday's meeting but refused to say whether he will follow Wong and Chan. Last November, Yum backed a motion to remove To as chairman. It was defeated 170-111 with 10 abstentions.
Wong told members he and Chan will set up a new group called People's Force "to strive for true democracy." A rally to drum up support will be held in April. He said it will not be a political party, but a "strategic partnership" aimed against the government and the Chinese Communist Party. It will also snap at the heels of the "hypocritical pan- democratic camp" in the upcoming elections. Wong, who said it was not difficult to quit the league, plans to give more details at a press conference tomorrow.
League chairman To said: "I am sorry about their departure. The League of Social Democrats will continue to run although they have quit." He added the split will be good news for their enemies. The league's remaining legislator, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, said he respects the pair's decision.
"I feel heartbroken. I am struggling and recalling the things that happened over the past half a year. I am reflecting if I did anything wrong," he said. Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said whether or not People's Force will pose a challenge to the Democratic Party in November's district council elections will hinge on the manpower and resources it can rally. He believes Beijing and the Hong Kong government will be pleased to see the split.
Mad Dog's next bite
Raymond "Mad Dog" Wong Yuk-man has stamped his personal seal on the split among the League of Social Democrats, escalating his public row with party chairman Andrew To Kwan-hang to the highest possible level. The bitter divorce was set off by the rape probe embroiling Wong's protege and once league highflier, Edward Yum Liang-hsien - despite Mad Dog's citing of a few other reasons to justify his move.
These included his dissatisfaction over To's decision not to go after the Democratic Party in the upcoming district council election, to punish it for supporting the 2012 political reforms. The next thing to watch is how many league members Wong and his loyalist Albert "Big Guy" Chan Wai-yip can get to follow them. Will there be 400 members - some 40 percent of the league's membership - quitting as Wong has claimed? Or will there be 200 at most as To suggests? The figure may demonstrate the influence Mad Dog and Big Guy hold over their disciples. It's worth noting that the other member of the iron triangle, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung doesn't seem to be following suit. If this signifies anything, it would be a gesture confirming the dissenting view cracking the triangle. When the Legislative Council next meets tomorrow, it would hardly be surprising if television crews pan their cameras on the trio sitting together despite their differences.
What has occurred in the league echoes the oft-quoted axiom that old friends can become bitter enemies. However, the split will unlikely fundamentally change the local political scene. Although the league has been around since its founding in 2006, its appeal in the radical spectrum has little to do with the party itself, but rather with its shining stars - Wong and Leung.
Chan is hardly a valid comparison, although he is often linked with them. But any political observer knows his personal appeal is limited despite his relentless efforts to transform himself from a former member of the Democratic camp into a true radical. As said, the stars' ability to absorb votes within the radical spectrum will be unhampered by their moving in or out of an organization. But should Leung also quit, it would deal a deadly blow to the league. Even if he stays on, it remains questionable whether the party can stand on its own.
Wong has vowed to form a new party - called People's Force - to place other radical groupings under his wing. Even if it's called Dog's Power, I can't see how it will change assembly politics. He will predictably continue resorting to theatrics to grab news headlines.
If Wong honors his threat and sets out to hammer Democratic Party candidates in the 2012 district council election, this will be bound to split the pan-democratic votes, strengthening the chances of victory by the pro- establishment camp.
Not only would Mad Dog viciously tear up his own league, but pan- democrats as a whole.
What's up with "Mad Dog" Raymond Wong Yuk-man, who has been barking his League of Social Democrats to the brink of division? Ever since his protege, Edward Yum Liang-hsien, was arrested by police in connection with a rape investigation, Wong has been scolding league chief Andrew To Kwan-hang so relentlessly that it seems he's adamant in ousting To - although he had groomed To to succeed him as chairman in the first place. By now, a split is a real possibility.
On the surface, Wong is unhappy with To's leadership. Since Yum's arrest, he has held To responsible for the fallout affecting the party. For Wong, To may be a soft target since it would have been unlikely for To to be elected chairman without his endorsement. On the same token, Wong feels he can destroy To just as easily.
However, is To really soft since he's fighting back? He may even have outwitted his predecessor by taking the preemptive moves of registering the league under various names, and putting his own man in charge of the organization - at least on the books. On Tuesday, To struck back with the most forceful punch so far, accusing Wong of splitting the league, which would just delight the Communist Party. Should that be the case, he said Wong should shoulder the most blame.
But does it make sense that Mad Dog would want to tear the league - his baby - apart? In political circles, rumors are rife that Wong has already been tamed by Beijing. If this is true, it would be unbelievable, since many would wonder how a diehard radical like him can possibly be tamed. Nevertheless, the rumors persist.
The scuttlebutt goes that it's because Wong's eldest son is still being detained in the mainland, a year after he was arrested in relation to a drug-related offense in Shenzhen. Following the arrest, Wong's pan- democratic peers also noticed that he adopted a lower profile.
Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan even made the connection - only to apologize after Wong protested strongly. Whatever the truth, there is little doubt the fierce verbal exchanges following the Yum saga is pushing the party up the path of division. This shouldn't surprise anybody. We're talking about the league here. What else can we expect from radicals who have the least commitment to any organization?
The development may cast doubt on the chances of league members - including To - in winning seats in the district council election later this year, in the absence of Wong's blessing. Wong's appeal to radicals is an element To lacks. To is bang-on in saying Beijing officials would be pleased to see the league fall apart, but I'm sure they're not the only ones. Hong Kong's political landscape is changing. While the league is reinventing itself into something unknown, the Civic Party has just completed a metamorphosis by electing two radicals - Alan Leong Kah-kit and Kenneth Chan Ka-lok - to its top posts. The process of power redistribution isn't over yet. Let's stay tuned.
Squabble-hit league chairman digs in
League of Social Democrats chairman Andrew To Kwan-hang will not quit his post despite pressure from former party chief Raymond Wong Yuk-man. Underlining his intention to stay in the job, To said Wong is the person most at fault for divisions. Wong has been stirring up trouble since last September, To grumbled.
Secretary general Gavin Kwai Sze-kit stepped down in November amid party infighting. The league was then shaken last month with the arrest of Edward Yum Liang-hsien for alleged rape and indecent assault.
Yum, a rising league star supported by Wong, is now on bail but has not been charged. Wong "should rethink who is mostly responsible for the party having two ruling powers," To said at a briefing for the media yesterday.
"Mad Dog" Wong has questioned To's ability to lead the party over his handling of the Yum case. To also said that infighting and an eventual split among pan-democrats "would be welcomed by the communists and SAR governments." He added: "For Beijing, the golden ratio of 60:40 is not easy to break unless the pan-democrats split from within," referring to support levels for pan- democrat and pro-Beijing candidates. Dissatisfied members are free to remove him with a motion at next month's meeting.
To survived a no-confidence vote in November, with 60 percent of members supporting him. "My term is two years," he said.
To also denied trying to use the league's name to set up a new party entitled "The New League of Social Democrats," which was registered as a limited company before members were consulted.
Party vice chairman Ng Man-yuen, a corporate strategic consultant, said it is common practice for firms to register a few similar names to protect their interest. He termed it "a very common administrative matter."
Wong was not available for comment yesterday.