Pro-democracy camp (Hong Kong)

The pro-democracy camp or pan-democracy camp (Chinese: 民主派 or 泛民主派) refers to a political alignment in Hong Kong that supports increased democracy, namely the universal suffrage of the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council as given by the Basic Law under the "One Country, Two Systems" framework.

Pro-democracy camp

LegCo ConvenorTanya Chan (Civic)
Founded27 October 1986 (1986-10-27)
Liberalism (HK)
Hong Kong localism
Radical democracy
Social democracy
Social liberalism
ColoursYellow and Green
Legislative Council
22 / 70(31%)
District Councils
388 / 479(81%)
Pro-democracy camp
Traditional Chinese民主派
Pan-democracy camp
Traditional Chinese泛民主派
Politics and government
of Hong Kong
Related topics Hong Kong portal

The pro-democrats generally embrace liberal values such as rule of law, human rights, civil liberties and social justice, yet their economic positions vary. They are often identified as the "opposition camp" due to its non-cooperative and sometimes confrontational stance toward the Hong Kong SAR and Chinese central governments. Opposite to the pro-democracy camp is the pro-Beijing camp, whose members are perceived to be supportive of Beijing and SAR authorities. Since the handover, the pro-democracy camp has received 55 to 60 per cent of the votes in each election but returned less than a half of the seats in the Legislative Council due to the indirectly elected elements of the legislature.

The pro-democracy activists emerged from the youth movements in the 1970s and began to take part in electoral politics as the colonial government introduced representative democracy in the mid 1980s. The pro-democrats joined hand in pushing for greater democracy both in the transition period and after handover of Hong Kong in 1997. They also supported greater democracy in China and took the supporting role in the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989. The relationship between the pro-democrats and the Beijing government turned hostile after the Beijing's bloody crackdown on the protest and the pro-democrats were labelled "treason". After the 2004 Legislative Council election, the term "pan-democracy camp" (abbreviated "pan-dems") was more in use as more different parties and politicians from different political spectrums emerged.

In the 2016 Legislative Council election, the camp faced the challenge from the new localists who emerged after the Umbrella Revolution and ran under the banner of "self-determination" or Hong Kong independence. After the election, some localists joined the pro-democrats' caucus which rebranded itself as "pro-democracy camp".[1]

In the 2019 Hong Kong local elections, The pro-democracy camp achieved its biggest landslide victory in the history of Hong Kong, gaining control of 17 of the 18 District Councils and tripling their seats from 124 to 388, with control 17 out of 18 district councils.


The main goal of the pro-democracy camp is to achieve universal suffrage of the Chief Executive (CE) and the Legislative Council (LegCo) as guaranteed in Article 45 and Article 68 of the Basic Law respectively. Since the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) 31 August 2014 decision that determined that Chief Executive candidate would be selected by a highly restrictive nominating committee which was seen as the betrayal of the democratic value, some democrats have raised the question of the right of self-determination. Yet, the mainstream pro-democrats remained their support of an autonomous Hong Kong under the "One Country, Two Systems" framework as promised by the Basic Law.[2]

The pro-democrats generally embrace liberal values such as rule of law, human rights, civil liberties and social justice, yet their economic positions vary. Some pro-democrats position themselves in a more pro-labour position, such as the League of Social Democrats (LSD), the Labour Party and the Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre (NWSC), however most pro-democrats believe in a more egalitarian society. The pro-democracy camp generally support the Chinese democracy movement, in which it can trace back to their support of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The pro-democrats have been calling for the end of one party rule of the Communist Party of China therefore are seen as threat to the Beijing authorities. Since the camp's idea of western-style liberal democracy would not be accepted easily by the Chinese government run by the Communist Party. In some cases, pan-democracy activists have been accused of high treason and as "traitors to Han Chinese".[3]

The pro-democrats also divide themselves with different approaches of achieving democracy: the moderate democrats represented by the Democratic Party and the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (ADPL) believe in dialogue with Beijing and Hong Kong governments over struggle, while radical democrats such as the League of Social Democrats and the People Power believe in street actions and mass movements. There have been serve conflicts and distrust between the two factions and a great split after the constitutional reform voting in 2010, where the Democratic Party negotiated with the Beijing representatives and supported the modified reform proposal and was seen as a betrayal by the radical democrats.[4]


Early development

Members of the camp include social workers and social activists emerged from the 1970s youth movements. Many of them grouped themselves as the "social action faction", competing against the pro-Communist Maoists in whom they disagreed with their ultra-nationalist and radical Maoist stances. Although claiming to be patriotic and launching the defend the Diaoyu Islands movement, the "social action faction" dedicated themselves into the local social issues in Hong Kong. They fought for the social inequality and livelihood issues, including the anti-corruption movement and Chinese Language movement and so forth. In the early 1980s when the question of Hong Kong sovereignty emerged, many of them supported a democratic autonomous Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty, notably the Meeting Point which was founded in January 1983 which became the first political group to publicly support the Chinese sovereignty of Hong Kong.[5]

After the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the pro-democrats began to join hands to demand further democracy before and after 1997. In 1986, a number of political groups, activists, professionals and politicians joined hand under the banner of the Joint Committee on the Promotion of Democratic Government (JCPDG) demanding for 1988 direct elections for the Legislative Council and earlier universal suffrage for the Chief Executive and Legislative Council after 1997, as presented in the proposal of the Group of 190.[6] Their arch rival at the time was the Group of 89, a group of conservative business and professional elites in the Hong Kong Basic Law Drafting Committee (HKBLDC) and Hong Kong Basic Law Consultative Committee (HKBLCC). They generally opposed the British colonial administration and its perceived "kowtowing" to the Beijing government over the issues such as constitutional reform, direct elections, civic rights and Daya Bay Nuclear Plant.[6]

The pro-democrats maintained a relatively warm relationship with the Beijing government during the 1980s, as many of the pro-democrats supported the Chinese sovereignty in Hong Kong and the "high degree of autonomy" as ensured in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. They also saw the ideal of Hong Kong helping in China's Four Modernisations.[6] The Beijing authorities also viewed the pro-democrats as the targets of the united front. Barrister Martin Lee and educator Szeto Wah, president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, who were also the two most visible pro-democracy leaders, were appointed members of the Hong Kong Basic Law Drafting Committee in 1985 by Beijing.[7]

The pro-democrats also participated in electoral politics as direct elections were introduced in local levels in the 1980s, namely the District Boards, Urban Council and Regional Council. Among them, the Meeting Point formed in 1983, the Hong Kong Affairs Society in 1985 and Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood in 1986 became the three major pro-democratic groups and formed a strategic alliance in the 1988 District Board elections, which laid the foundation of the pro-democracy grassroots supports.[8]

Tiananmen protests and last colonial years

The consolidation of its public support has its roots in opposition to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown which aroused widespread horror, sympathy and support of the protesters by Hong Kong citizens.[9] The pro-democrats, who were heavily involved in the protests and formed the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (ADSPDMC or Alliance), were seen as "treason" and threat to the Beijing government. The two pro-democracy Basic Law Drafting Committee members, Martin Lee and Szeto Wah, were stripped from the office after they resigned in protest of the bloody crackdown, many of other pro-democrats were denied entry to the Mainland China since. Since 1989, the Alliance organise annual candlelight vigil for the June 4 crackdown at the Victoria Park, Hong Kong, which draw thousands of people every year. Ahead of the first direct election to the Legislative Council in 1991, around 600 democracy activists co-founded the first major pro-democracy party, the United Democrats of Hong Kong.[10][11]

The electoral alliance of United Democrats of Hong Kong and Meeting Point, together with other smaller political parties, groups and independents, won a historical landslide victory in the 1991 election, took 17 out of the 18 geographical constituency seats.[12] The pro-democrats were often considered strategic allies of Chris Patten, the last colonial governor who proposed a much progressive democratic reform in the last years before the handover of Hong Kong, despite Beijing's strong opposition. The Democrats supported Patten's proposal for the 1995 Legislative Council election. However, Emily Lau's full-scale direct election amendment was not passed as a result of Meeting Point's abstaining from voting for Emily Lau, which caused harsh criticism from the radical democrats and the United Ants.[11][13] In 1994, the United Democrats and the Meeting Point merged into the Democratic Party, which won another landslide victory in the 1995 election, taking 19 seats in total, far ahead of other parties. Together with other democratic parties and individuals including Emily Lau, Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Yiu-chung who later formed The Frontier in 1996 and Christine Loh who formed the Citizens Party in 1997, the pro-democrats gained a thin majority in the legislature for the last two years before 1997.[14][15]

The Beijing government argued that the electoral reform introduced by Patten had violated the Joint Declaration and thus they no longer felt obliged to honour the promise of a "through train", a plan to keep the 1995 elected legislature into post-handover SAR era. A parallel Legislative Council, the Provisional Legislative Council, was formed in 1996 under the control of the Pro-Beijing camp, this became the Legislative Council upon the founding of the new SAR government in 1997, in which the pro-democrats except for the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood boycotted it, deeming it as unconstitutional.[16]

Handover to China and 1 July 2003 protest

All of its members, except the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, declined to join the extralegal Provisional Legislative Council installed by the government of the People's Republic of China, and were ousted from the territory's legislature for a year until the 1998 election. Starting from the 1998 election, since the plurality electoral system was changed to proportional representation, compounded with the restoration of corporate votes in the functional constituencies, and replacement of broad-based functional constituencies with traditional ones, the number of seats of the camp dipped, albeit having similar share of vote.[17] Within the camp, share of smaller parties and independents increased relatively, with the share of the Democratic Party falling from around two-thirds in 1995 to less than a half by 2004.

The pro-democracy camp was the strong opposition to the national security and anti-subversion legislation of the Basic Law Article 23 and they successfully called for over 500,000 people to protest on 1 July 2003 against the legislation, the largest demonstration since the handover.[18] The pro-democrats received victories in the subsequent 2003 District Councils and 2004 Legislative Council elections. The barrister-formed Article 23 Concern Group formed by the pro-democracy lawyers, which transformed into Article 45 Concern Group, saw its member Audrey Eu, Alan Leong and Ronny Tong were elected in the 2004 election. In 2006, the group formed the middle class and professional oriented Civic Party.[19] On the other hand, the left-wing radical group League of Social Democrats was formed in the same year by Trotskyist legislator Leung Kwok-hung and radical radio host Wong Yuk-man. As a result of the diversification of the pro-democracy elements, the use of "pan-democrats" gained in popularity, as it is typically meant to be non-denominational and all-inclusive.

In the 2007 Chief Executive election, Civic Party's Alan Leong successfully gained enough nominations to challenge the incumbent Chief Executive Donald Tsang, but he was not elected as expected due to the control of the Election Committee by the pro-Beijing camp. After the 2008 Legislative Council election, The Frontier merged into the Democratic Party and the convenor Emily Lau was elected vice chair of the party.[20]

2012 reform package and the Split

Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive, promised to resolve the question of universal suffrage in his office during the election. He carried out the 2012 constitutional package in 2009 which was criticised by the pro-democracy as lack of genuine progress. The League of Social Democrats called for a de facto referendum, by way of the 2010 by-elections in five geographical constituencies.[21] Civic Party, the second largest pro-democratic party joined, however the Democratic Party, the largest party, was reluctant to participate. The Democratic Party and other moderate democrats and pro-democracy scholars launched the Alliance for Universal Suffrage and started to engage with the mainland officials. The Democratic Party brought out a revised proposal of the package to Beijing and the revised proposal was passed in the Legislative Council in the support of the government and Pro-Beijing camp.[22]

However, it triggered a major split within the camp and also in the Democratic Party. The Young Turks including the LegCo member Andrew Cheng quit the party and formed the Neo Democrats. The Democratic Party was accused by the LSD and the radicals of betraying democracy and its supporters. On the matter of whether to coordinate with the moderate democrats in the 2011 District Council elections, the League of Social Democrats was suffered in the factional fighting and the two of the three LSD legislators left the party in disarray and formed the People Power.[23] The People Power's campaign targeted pan-democracy parties in the 2011 District Council elections that had supported the reform package filled candidates to run against them but only won one seat of 62 contested.

Nevertheless, the People Power managed to win three seats in the 2012 Legislative Council election and the radical democrats of the (People Power and the League of Social Democrats) topped 264,000 votes, compared to the Civic Party's 255,000 and Democratic Party's 247,000 respectively.[24] Despite the pan-democrats securing three of the five newly created, District Council (second) constituency seats the ratio of the vote share between the pan-democrats and the pro-Beijing camp narrowed significantly from the traditional 60% to 40%, to 55% to 45%.

The chairman of the Democratic Party Albert Ho represented the pan-democracy camp to run in the 2012 Chief Executive election. On election day the pan-democrats declined to vote for neither Henry Tang nor Leung Chun-ying and called for a blank vote from the electors.[25]

2014 Umbrella Revolution

In March 2013, all 27 democratic legislators formed the Alliance for True Democracy (ATD), replacing the Alliance for Universal Suffrage, to show solidarity of the camp to fight for genuine democracy. The ATD put forward a three-channel proposal for the 2017 Chief Executive election during the constitutional reform consultation in 2014. However, the decision of the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on 31 August ruled out the possibility for any candidate not endorsed by Beijing to be nominated for the election, which the pan-democrats accused as a betrayal of the principle of "one person, one vote," The pan-democrats had supported legal scholar Benny Tai's Occupy Central plan of civil disobedience against Beijing's decision, which later turned into a 79-day occupy protest which often dubbed as "Umbrella Revolution".[2] On 18 June 2015, all 27 pan-democrat legislators and Medical legislator Leung Ka-lau voted against the government's constitutional reform bill while the pro-Beijing legislators launched a failed walk-out. The bill was defeated by 28 against 8 for, barely meeting the quorum of 35.[26]

Many new political groups emerged from the Umbrella Revolution often distanced themselves from the pan-democrats. Many of whom, being labelled as "localists", criticised pan-democrats' failing in achieving democracy in the last 30 years. Many of them called for more "militant" tactics over pan-democrats' "non-violent" principles and "China–Hong Kong separation" over the some mainstream pan-democrats' mild "Chinese nationalist sentiment".[27] Some of them also criticised pan-democrats' demand of the vindication of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, as pursued by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (HKASPDMC). There was also growing voice for Hong Kong independence from the Chinese rule, as many of whom deemed the "One Country, Two Systems" had failed.[28]

2016/17 elections and aftermath

In the 2016 Legislative Council election, localists with different banners together took away 19 per cent of the vote share from the pan-democrats, in which the traditional pan-democrats secured only 36 per cent, 21 less than the previous election. The non-establishment forces secured 30 out of the 70 seats, in which pan-democrats took 23 seats. After the election, the 27-member pro-democrats' caucus rebranded themselves into "pro-democracy camp" or "G27", as three backers of the "self-determination" of Hong Kong, namely Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Eddie Chu joined the caucus.[1] The "G27" soon became "G26" after Chu left the caucus shortly afterwards.

In the 2016 Election Committee subsector election, the pro-democrat coalition "Democrats 300+" scored a record victory in the Election Committee which was responsible for electing the 2017 Chief Executive. The democrats decided not to field their candidate in order to boost the chance of an alternative establishment candidate against incumbent Leung Chun-ying. After Leung announced he would not seek for re-election, the pro-democrats turned against Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam who was seen as "C.Y. 2.0". The pro-democrats nominated former Financial Secretary John Tsang and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing amid the Liaison Office actively lobbied for Lam. Ahead of the election, some 98 per cent of the "Democrats 300+" coalition decided on voting for Tsang as he was the most popular candidate in the polls.[29]

On 14 July 2017, Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, Nathan Law of the Demosisto, Yiu Chung-yim and Lau Siu-lai were unseated from the Legislative Council over their manners at the oath-taking ceremony at the inaugural meeting as a result of the legal action from the Leung Chun-ying government and the interpretation of the Hong Kong Basic Law by the National People's Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), following the disqualification of two pro-independence legislators, Youngspiration's Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching.[30]

The pro-democrats suffered a defeat in the by-election for four of the six vacancies on 11 March 2018, losing the Kowloon West geographical constituency and Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape functional constituency to the pro-Beijing candidates. Yiu Ching-yim who contested in Kowloon West was defeated by Vincent Cheng of the DAB with a thin margin, making it the first time a pro-democrat lost in a single-member district election since the handover. The vote share of the pro-democrats also dropped from the traditional 55 per cent to only 47 per cent.[31]

The pro-democracy camp achieved its biggest landslide victory in the history of Hong Kong in the 2019 Hong Kong local elections, gaining control of 17 of the 18 District Councils and tripling their seats from around 124 to about 388. The pro-democrats were also able to capture 117 District Council subsector seats in the 1,200-member Election Committee, which is responsible for electing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Pro-Beijing parties and independents won from around 300 to only 62 seats, a loss of nearly 80%.[32][33]

Political parties

This list includes the political parties and groups currently represented in the Legislative Council:

Other notable existing political parties without any representation in the Legislative Council include Demosistō, Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood and League of Social Democrats.

Civil groups

Electoral performance

Chief Executive elections

Election Candidate Party Votes %
2005 Lee Wing-tat Democratic Not nominated
2007 Alan Leong Civic 123 15.93
2012 Albert Ho Democratic 76 7.24
2017 Leung Kwok-hung[34] LSD Not nominated

Legislative Council elections

Election Number of
popular votes
% of
popular votes
Total seats +/− Status
1991 843,888[35] 61.63 16 7
20 / 60
13 N/A
1995 557,515 61.13 16 10 3
29 / 60
11 N/A
1998 982,249 66.36 15 5 0
20 / 60
N/A Minority
2000 799,249 60.56 16 5 0
21 / 60
1 Minority
2004 1,105,388 62.44 18 7
25 / 60
3 Minority
2008 901,707 59.50 19 4
23 / 60
3 Minority
2012 1,036,998 57.26 18 9
27 / 70
4 Minority
2016 781,168 36.02 13 10
23 / 70
3 Minority

Municipal elections

Election Number of
popular votes
% of
popular votes
elected seats
1989 68,831 32.38
5 / 15
5 / 12
10 / 27
1991 200,877 51.28
6 / 15
7 / 12
14 / 27
1995 287,226 51.51
18 / 32
16 / 27
34 / 59

District Council elections

Election Number of
popular votes
% of
popular votes
elected seats
1988 139,982 22.16
61 / 264
1991 170,757 32.11
83 / 272
1994 280,707 40.89
146 / 346
1999 325,829 40.18
157 / 390
2003 477,596 45.54
198 / 400
2007 445,781 39.15
127 / 405
2011 464,512 39.34
103 / 412
2015 581,058 40.20
126 / 431
2019 1,674,083 57.10
388 / 452

See also


  1. "非建制「G27」共商大計 溝通平台擬正名「民主派會議」". Ming Pao. 7 October 2016.
  2. Buckley, Chris; Forsythe, Michael (31 August 2014). "China Restricts Voting Reforms for Hong Kong". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  3. Jensen, Lionel M. Weston, Timothy B. [2006] (2006). China's Transformations: The Stories Beyond the Headlines. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-3863-X.
  4. "A more united Democratic Party predicted as Young Turks leave". South China Morning Post. Hong Kong. 20 December 2010.
  5. Scott, Ian. Political Change and the Crisis of Legitimacy in Hong Kong. University of Hawaii Press. p. 210.
  6. Davies, Stephen; Roberts, Elfed (1990). Political Dictionary for Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Macmillan Publishers (HK) Ltd.
  7. Loh, Christine (2010). Underground front. Hong Kong University Press. p. 158.
  8. Lo, Shiu-hing (2016). The Politics of Democratization in Hong Kong. Springer. pp. 143–145.
  9. Wing-kai Chiu, Stephen. Lui, Tai-Lok. The Dynamics of Social Movement in Hong Kong. [2000] (2000). Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 962-209-497-X.
  10. Chan, Ming K. (1997). The Challenge of Hong Kong's Reintegration with China: Modern Diasporic Femininity. Hong Kong University Press.
  11. Sing, Ming (2004). Hong Kong's Tortuous Democratization: A Comparative Analysis. Psychology Press.
  12. Scott, Ian (1991). "An Overview of the Hong Kong Legislative Council Elections of 1991" (PDF). Asian Journal of Public Administration. 13 (2): 11–37. doi:10.1080/02598272.1991.10800247.
  13. Chiu, Stephen Wing-Kai; Lü, Dale; Lui, Tai-Lok (2000). The Dynamics of Social Movement in Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Press. p. 43.
  14. "Save Our Harbour". The Citizens Party. Archived from the original on 9 November 1999.
  15. "PAST POLITICAL RECORD - CHRISTINE KUNG-WAI LOH". The Citizens Party. Archived from the original on 3 October 1999.
  16. Loh, Christine (2010). Underground front. Hong Kong University Press. p. 187.
  17. Sing, Ming (2004). Hong Kong's Tortuous Democratization: A Comparative Analysis. Psychology Press. p. 158.
  18. Wong, Yiu-Chung. One Country, Two Systems in Crisis: Hong Kong's Transformation Since the Handover. Lexington books.
  20. "Frontier members vote for Democrats merger". South China Morning Post.
  21. Associated Press (11 March 2010), "Hong Kong, China debate legality of referendum" Archived 11 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Asian Correspondent. Retrieved on 5 April 2010.
  22. Cheung, Gary; Wong, Albert & Fung, Fanny (25 June 2010) "Cheers and jeers for political reform vote", South China Morning Post
  23. Pepper, Suzanne (15 November 2010). "Politicking Hong Kong Style". Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  24. Luk, Eddie (17 September 2012). "Change on way for Democrats, says Sin". The Standard. Archived from the original on 12 April 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  25. Siu, Phila (22 March 2012). "Tang or Blank". The Standard
  26. Lam, Hang-chi (18 June 2015). "And so, we stagger into an even more uncertain future". ejinsight.
  27. Lau, Stuart (10 June 2013). "Independent thinker Horace Chin treads bold path". South China Morning Post.
  28. Fitzpatrick, Liam. "Hong Kong Makes History with First Pro-Independence Rally". TIME.
  29. "Pan-democrats pledge more than 290 votes for John Tsang in Hong Kong leadership race". South China Morning Post. 20 March 2017.
  30. "Four More Hong Kong Lawmakers Ousted In a Blow to Democratic Hopes". TIME. 17 July 2017.
  31. "Hong Kong democrats to rely on legal appeals after failing to win back Legco veto foothold". South China Morning Post. 12 March 2018.
  32. "Hong Kong voters deliver landslide victory for pro-democracy campaigners". The Guardian. 24 November 2019.
  33. Bradsher, Keith; Ramzy, Austin; May, Tiffany (24 November 2019). "Hong Kong Election Results Give Democracy Backers Big Win". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 25 November 2019. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  34. Note: Not endorsed by mainstream pro-democrats.
  35. Note: Each voter was given two votes in the 1991 Election.
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