Rita looks in the mirror and sees a new president

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 July, 1998, 12:00am

The faces were mostly familiar. The seating plan was strange and new.

Legislators, once seated according to seniority, then rearranged according to the number of brush-strokes in their name, were now grouped in parties.

And, for a brief half-hour, the most unfamiliar seating arrangement of all: Andrew Wong and Rita Fan on the same bench, with only Christine Loh between them.

But who were these people? Nobodies, until they had been sworn in as legislative councillors.

Time to get things formalised. One by one they trotted up to swear or affirm allegiance to the motherland, uphold the Basic Law and serve Hong Kong 'conscientiously, dutifully, in full accordance with the law, honestly and with integrity'.

Christians took their oaths, Bible in hand. Others put their hands on the table. Selina Chow stood with her fists clenched at her side.

Most spoke Cantonese. Even Ms Loh gave it a whirl, despite her admittedly weak Chinese reading skills.

Unfortunately, she lost her place and, unable to recognise the missing character, came to grinding halt.

Unkind titters. She read the rest of the oath following the characters with her finger.

Lee Cheuk-yan tried English. It was, he explained later, a matter of principle. The word 'uphold' in English was fine.

In Chinese, yung wu meant something much stronger, something almost religious.

It turns out the same word is used in such religious phrases as 'Support the Communist Party' or 'Support the collective leadership with Jiang Zemin at its core'.

Philip Wong, on the other hand, decided to display his patriotic credentials by taking the oath in Putonghua.

Chim Pui-chung gave his oath the rap treatment. Loud, fast and with a snappy, syncopated rhythm.

Any day now, the Legco oath will make it on to laser disc as a karaoke number.

Everyone was dressed to kill. Ms Loh in a blinding little lemon number, Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho and most of the men in black.

Leung Yiu-chung, unbowed by his year in the wilderness, took the oath in an open-necked shirt.

OK, but how much can you say about different oathing styles? On to the main business of the day.

Would it be Rita Fan, or would it be Andrew Wong for president. The house was on the edge of its 60 seats.

Nail-biting drama as each legislator cast a secret ballot.

Scalp-tingling suspense as the ballots were separated into two piles. Nerve-jangling, bated-breath tension as the counting got under way.

Could we live with Rita 'I looked in the mirror and I couldn't see Madam Mao' Fan? Was it even legal to elect tobacco fiend Andrew Wong, on the day that smoking in public places became an offence? Legislators did what was expected of them.

Mrs Fan won, 36 votes to 24.