Too pampered to care?
In an unprecedented move, 58 of the 60 legislative councillors have signed up to be on the constitutional affairs panel. This was done to ensure that the democrats would be outnumbered in the deliberations on political reform.
However, after they had elected an 'acceptable' chairman in Lui Ming-wah, a member of The Alliance who represents the industrial sector, many of the conservative legislators reverted to their normal mode of operation, and left soon after the meeting started. Some preferred to talk on the phone, rather than listen to the democrats' arguments, while others attended to their own business. The lack of enthusiasm made it possible for the democrats to propose a motion calling for a referendum to be held on universal suffrage. In the end, however, there was not enough time for the motion to be debated.
The father of all evil, in this case, was Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung. The democrats in the assembly tried their best to bring to his attention, and the attention of the conservatives, the issues of public concern. Mr Lam, however, parried the 10 outstanding issues which had been raised by the previous legislature. These included: the need for legislation to facilitate the operation of political parties; whether the anti-graft laws should be amended to cover the chief executive; a review of the district councils; regulating certain activities of former chief executives; and the composition and scope of the Electoral Affairs Commission.
Mr Lam brushed aside all these issues, saying merely that they would be tackled in due course. His attitude amounted to dereliction of duty, and even some of the government's usual supporters were dissatisfied.
He was the typical arrogant bureaucrat at the meeting last Monday, where members were supposed to discuss the government's third report on post-2007 electoral reform. He stressed that the administration had invited more than 800 citizens to 12 public hearings to express their views on political reform. Each had to limit his or her speech to no more than 10 minutes. Some legislators demanded that a more broadly based public consultation be conducted in compiling the fourth report. Again, Mr Lam was ambiguous about how the authorities would actually collect public opinions.
The democrats were, thus, provoked into pressing the government to be more responsive and accountable. It was in this context that Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who represents the social welfare constituency, tabled the impromptu motion suggesting that a referendum be held on how to revise the electoral arrangements for the chief executive and Legislative Council elections in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
The move was not meant as a challenge to Beijing. Unlike in Taiwan, a referendum in Hong Kong would have nothing to do with promoting independence or quasi-independence. The move was primarily a direct response to Mr Lam's poor performance.
The conservatives, who did not seem to take the meeting seriously, later sought to claim that the motion was a calculated plot on the part of the democrats to ambush the government. This was hardly the case. Dr Cheung merely did the right thing at the right time in discharging his duties as a representative of the people.
The conservatives have been pampered by the Hong Kong and central governments with all sorts of titles and honours. Yet, when it comes to the crucial issue of political reform, they have failed to deliver. The once-powerful Hong Kong Progressive Alliance suffered in the Legco election, failing to retain any of its four seats, after Beijing widened its united front to include the Liberal Party. Others who think that they are Beijing's favourites should wake up to the reality that they, too, could be dumped at any time.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a directly-elected legislator