Anson Chan

Legco mourns passing of law

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 May, 1999, 12:00am


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It was like a funeral in Legco. Outside the council building, wreaths were on display. Inside, there were no shortage of mourners for the start of the death of the rule of law.

The democrat camp did not quite succeed in co-ordinating its funeral dress code. Margaret Ng wanted no part of it. And unionist Leung Yiu-chung turned up in a blue shirt, unable to bear wearing a suit, even on such a serious occasion.

But it was still an impressive sight to see 18 of the mourning legislators dressed in black, many also sporting white carnations. Most looked grimmer than at any time in their political careers.

Emily Lau seemed close to tears. Ms Ng's voice quivered with emotion as she spoke. Martin Lee revealed he had thought about going on hunger strike.

He also added to the macabre atmosphere by quoting from Shakespeare's Macbeth. That brought an angry retort from Regina Ip, who clearly resented being compared to Lady Macbeth, as well as the implication that her hands were now dripping with blood.

While they were not dressed in black, the mood on the government side was almost as grim. Many seemed to wish they were somewhere else, a task Donald Tsang tried to achieve by absenting himself for prolonged periods.

Anson Chan did not have that luxury. Instead she kept her head bowed for much of the debate, her trademark 'Cheshire Cat' grin nowhere in sight. When she did finally rise to speak, Mrs Chan laid much stress on the difficult nature of the decision, almost as if subtly trying to distance herself from it.

It was easy to get the impression, as Mr Lee had earlier alleged, that the officials involved harboured a guilty conscience. When he and Ms Ng delivered impassioned speeches, even Rita Fan leaned forward and listened intently. Elsewhere in the chamber, there was a solemn silence rather than the usual smiles and casual chit-chat.

Such unusual attentiveness suggested that, while the pro-government voting fodder might loyally do its duty, even they knew in their hearts that the democrats were right this time.

The grim atmosphere was only briefly dispelled when the issue of death came to the fore yet again. Mr Lee warned that, while he might die, the rule of law must survive. But the DAB's Chan Kam-lan got mixed up and seemed to think Mr Lee was suggesting he would live longer than the legal process.

But it was always destined to be a one-sided debate, especially after the democrats walked out. That dispelled any doubt over whether the Government would prevail. But while it may have won the vote, it was difficult for anyone in the chamber to dispute that the administration had lost the argument.