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Friday, Mar 31, 2023

Hong Kong’s Democratic Party forced to cancel spring dinner at last minute again

Hong Kong’s Democratic Party forced to cancel spring dinner at last minute again

Restaurant, Wealth Banquet, suddenly cancels banquet for 200 members and supporters, just as last year’s venue operator did.

Hong Kong’s largest opposition party was forced to call off its spring reception at the last minute on Tuesday after the venue said it experienced urgent issues – the second year in a row its annual gathering had to be cancelled this way.

The cancellation sparked questions by some on how much room the Democratic Party had to operate amid the city’s changing political climate, with one leader of the group warning such an atmosphere would harm society.

The party, which has not held its annual party anniversary dinner since before the pandemic started in 2020, was expected to hold a banquet for 200 members and its supporters at a Chinese restaurant in Kwai Fong on Tuesday night.

As the restaurant it booked last year pulled out at the last minute, the party chose to keep the banquet location secret this year and only notified some of its guests of the venue three hours beforehand.

A restaurant set to host the Democratic Party’s annual dinner said it had to close for urgent repairs.

But the party was forced to cancel the dinner an hour later, as the venue operator, Wealth Banquet, said it had issues with its gas. A photo obtained by the Post showed the tables of the banquet were already set on Tuesday afternoon.

A staff member at Wealth Banquet said the restaurant had to close after its kitchen experienced issues with its gas. A notice had also been put up outside saying it would be closed for the night to “urgently repair its gas meter control valve”.

But according to sources, the restaurant was experiencing problems not with its gas but rather its ventilation system, and some claimed the problem was fixed at around 7.30pm.

In July last year, the party abruptly cancelled its fundraising banquet two days before it was expected to take place after the venue, Chinese restaurant ClubONE The Victoria in Tsim Sha Tsui, said it had to shut down that day for thorough cleansing after Covid-19 clusters emerged nearby.

The restaurant operated as usual the day before and the day after the banquet was scheduled.

The cancellation last year came amid intense criticisms by pro-Beijing newspapers against the Democrats as they accused the party of “opposing China and disrupting Hong Kong”.

The party cancelled its 25th anniversary dinner in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

Party chairman Lo Kin-hei on Tuesday said he regretted the incident and revealed they had experienced difficulties in securing a venue to host its banquet earlier.
Former Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau.

One hotel that originally accepted the booking pulled out last month, while another which had also taken the reservation informed them on Sunday they could not host due to “urgent repair works”. Wealth Banquet agreed to stage the event on Monday, but it too eventually cancelled, he said.

Lo said the party did not expect “such a simple gathering” to experience so many “difficulties”. He also asked what the incident said about the state of affairs in Hong Kong.

“Why would there be such an atmosphere and what good would such an atmosphere bring to society?” he said.

Lo apologised to party members and residents who had purchased tickets and vowed to look for other venues for the reception. He also reassured supporters the Democrats would continue to speak up for residents and asked for their continued financial support.

Former party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing called the latest development “horrific”, saying many guests from the business and professional sectors invited to the dinner were shocked and found it “unbelievable”.

“We just hoped to get together for dinner, and even that’s not allowed,” she said. “Does the party have to be disbanded? Is it the Hong Kong story that Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu wants to tell the international community?”

Former Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor attended the party’s anniversary dinner in 2018 and even became the first chief executive to donate to the group, move she called a “major reconciliation”.

Dozens of political parties and civil groups in Hong Kong have disbanded since 2020 when Beijing imposed the national security law, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The second-biggest opposition party, the Civic Party, dissolved following a vote at the end of last year.

Five core members of the Democratic Party – with four being former lawmakers – are on trial for alleged subversion over their roles in an unofficial primary election in 2020.

The party did not field any candidates in the Legislative Council election two years ago held under the central government’s “patriots-only” electoral overhaul – a decision which some Beijing-friendly politicians fiercely criticised.


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