They are all members of the centre-left, non-radical Civic Party.
The implication of their disqualification is more serious than the disqualification of the independentists in 2016. Parties such as the Democratic Party and Civic Party belong to the pro-democracy camp, but they are not independentist. Therefore, they were tolerated by the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. However, the latest disqualification of the four MPs has thereby set an example to show how loyalty to the Party is crucial in the election. No one is allowed to be disloyal, not even the centrist opposition.
Contrary to popular belief, an authoritarian regime would tolerate some form of opposition. When the political power is relatively stable in China, the Chinese Communist Party would paradoxically allow a mild, institutionalised opposition to coexist with the dominant, loyal voice in the party to show its civility and “respect” for the opposition as a utopian exemplar.
In some sense, the centrist pro-democracy politicians are even well integrated into the machine as the gentle official opposition. Their position is rather conservative and elitist by Western standards. They always compromised whenever the government wanted to push through controversial bills. Nevertheless, praised by the general public for their pragmatic approach, they used to be a dummy for Hong Kong people to release their anger every four years. However, as the political situation worsens, they stayed unresponsive, even until the very last moment of their parliamentary career.
Collective resignation, a belated decision
Their collective resignation seemed heroic, but in fact it was only the last resort. They were so reluctant to resign that they had actually refused to do so two months ago, when the government delayed the election and extended the parliamentary term by a year due to the coronavirus.
There were concerns from the public about the undemocratic nature of such prolongation. In addition, the government had already disqualified numerous democrat MPs over the past four years such that the democrats held less than a third of the seats, which is crucial for constitutional bills requiring a two-third majority.
The democrats having lost the last crucial seats, some called for them to refuse the undemocratic term extension and refrain from contradicting their fundamental political objective, which is democracy. In other words, the people requested them to resign. In response to the demand, they carried out a survey with about 20 000 people, of which 47% for and 35% against their resignation, and 15% undecided.
Instead of complying with the people's will, the democrats argued that an absolute majority of 50% had not been reached, so the bloc refused to resign. They had clung on to power until the government disqualified four of them.
On the plus side, their collective resignation might arguably be their best legacy. This is the best move to show the reality of the situation to the international community, which fantasised that the legislature was democratic and hence Hong Kong was a functioning partial democracy. Compared to their resignation, all the overseas lobbying we have done sounds like scaremongering. Their existence in the Legislative Council misled outsiders to think that the Hong Kong model could work.
The Hong Kong or Chinese politico-economic model was once praised by laypeople as a superior alternative to democracy. They believe in the benevolent dictator who takes care of everything in a swift and responsive manner. However, when there are power struggles within the system between the dictator and their clique, they tend to become bad tempered and make ruthless decisions that sometimes do not even benefit themselves nor the people. The current situation in Hong Kong is a result of power struggle in China. We will talk more about this in the future.