When the resignations of all of Legco’s pan-democrats take effect on Tuesday, it will leave the legislature without a legitimate opposition for the first time since the nascent days of the Hong Kong SAR.
New elections are due in September 2021, but some departing lawmakers who quit in protest at Beijing’s decision to expel four of their pan-democratic colleagues admit the future is far from certain, and the only thing they can be sure of is that more tough times lie ahead.
For veteran legislator James To, it’s been particularly hard to say goodbye.
After winning a Legco seat in 1991 at the age of 28, the Democratic Party stalwart has remained more or less a fixture of the council ever since, and is now its longest-serving member.
His office is packed with mementos of history, from some of Hong Kong's biggest political crises – like the 2003 mass protest that led to the shelving of the SAR's own national security law – to some of its worst disasters, like the National Day ferry sinking off Lamma eight years ago, and the 2010 Manila bus hostage tragedy.
"A lot of photos, a lot of souvenirs, a lot of stuff that stirred up my emotions and memories... I go through a mini journey of 29 years of my life. Those times that I spent [scrutinising bills], prepare the speech, helping victims, families in all sorts of justice-seeking procedures. Every policy, every bill, every important disaster and events and review procedures will go through Legco and through all the papers and stuff. So going through all the things is going through the history of Hong Kong," he said.
But this isn’t the first time To has stepped away from Legco.
The first came ahead of the 1997 handover, in protest at Beijing's replacement of what was intended to be a through-train council by a provisional legislature, set up by the central government's preparatory committee and chosen by 400 people.
This time, it is in protest at Beijing's move to force out four of his allies, months after extending the term of the current council following the postponement of September's elections.
To admitted Beijing’s decision caught him off guard.
The Democrat had, like most of his colleagues, opted to stay on in the stop-gap Legco. But he said he had to make the U-turn to leave, when it was reduced to what he described as another version of the National People's Congress.
He said Beijing effectively ended ‘One Country, Two Systems’ on November the 11th, and he fears that the worst may yet be to come, with no genuine opposition left in Hong Kong's legislature.
"There is no bottom line. In the last 20 years the freedom level, the rule of law level just decreased gradually, but now ... nobody can predict,” he said. “After three days something can happen that will shock you… so there is no bottom limit. It is only what the Communist Party of Beijing, together with this puppet HK government wish to do, and determined to do," he said.
Beijing's ousting of the four opposition lawmakers dealt a huge blow to the pan-democrats. But none took a bigger hit than the Civic Party, with its leader Alvin Yeung and lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki stripped of their seats.
Now, the only remaining and most junior lawmaker in the party, Jeremy Tam, has also resigned. That leaves him unemployed as he also quit his job as a Cathay Pacific pilot last year.
Tam admitted it will be harder for opposition forces to monitor the government without the status of a lawmaker.
But he thinks it is time for Hong Kong people to consider how to fight for their rights, freedoms and democracy, especially when there's no one in Legco to represent 60 percent of them.
"I think the party still has their role, although it may not be the same as before. But having said that, it’s a new chapter for everyone, not just for the legislators, actually it’s for the entire Hong Kong. Whether or not any party can sustain in the future, it is subject to whether or not the Hong Kong people will see that party is still valuable to their core values," he said.
Both lawmakers, however, conceded that they are unsure what they should do next.
James To said for now he will continue to serve the public as a district councillor, but the path ahead remains unclear.
"I am reading certain books [of] how people can survive under totalitarian regime ... some will keep a very low profile, some will escape, some will be a subversive opposition, some will just live as a happy man, or pretending to be happy man... I haven’t had the answer," he said.
Jeremy Tam is equally uncertain about his future.
"I still haven't made up my mind what happen next year, would I run for another election again if I don't get [disqualified], or doing something else. But it certainly is a big change ... and look at the frequency of the intervention of China government, which makes you worry ... It’s a tough time ahead," he said.