Wong Yuk-man

Bringing protest to the government

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 March, 2009, 12:00am


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A video clip showing legislators Wong Yuk-man and 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung from the League of Social Democrats sweeping aside the financial secretary's Budget and smashing a rice bowl during his speech has got almost 18,000 hits within a month on YouTube.

The incident took place during the February 25 reading of the Budget, as Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah was elaborating on research grants and the Innovation and Technology Fund.

Mr Wong walked up to Mr Tsang, swept away his documents and muttered that there was nothing worth reading out.

Mr Leung then went up to Mr Tsang and smashed a rice bowl on the floor, and said the government was ignorant about ordinary people's lives and had not granted any funds to them.

It was not the first time that legislators from the league have demonstrated frustration on behalf of people who are less well-off.

Last October, Mr Leung handed Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen a banana during his Policy Speech, saying the government had failed to help low-income groups because it had not legislated a minimum wage.

Mr Wong threw a banana at Mr Tsang, shouting that the government was not doing enough to help the elderly with the implementation of its HK$1,000 Old Age Allowance.

These are actions that have divided Hong Kong. While some think they can be effective in generating genuine debate about serious issues, others think the legislators involved are simply troublemakers who go too far.

Since the reading of the Budget, the legislators have been condemned for inappropriate behaviour.

Mr Tsang, after his speech, described the protest as childish, naive, tasteless and attention-seeking.

Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying described the legislators' actions as 'violent conduct'.

It appears the public agrees. In attempting to represent minority interests, Mr Leung and Mr Wong may be undermining their own credibility.

In the latest ratings of Legislative Councillors conducted by the Public Opinion Programme (POP) by the University of Hong Kong in January, Mr Leung scored lowest, with only 36.5 marks out of 100, while Wong Yuk-man scored 42.1.

But Mr Leung and Mr Wong stand by their actions.

They say there are social interests that can only be represented to government through protest, and that protest has its place in society.

'Protests are just part of a society, especially a civic society,' says Mr Leung. 'Whether the protests are ... violent depends very much on the degree of social conflict. When there are social conflicts and no channels for people's opinions, we should gather and put pressure on the government. When we protest, we push the government for change.'

Protest can take many forms. In December 2008, an Iraqi journalist hurled a shoe at former American president George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad, where Mr Bush was making a farewell visit.

The Iraqi journalist shouted in Arabic: 'This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog.'

Just two months later, a 27-year-old protester threw a shoe at Premier Wen Jiabao while Mr Wen was visiting Cambridge, Britain.

The Foreign Ministry expressed dissatisfaction about the incident, saying: 'The Chinese side has expressed its strong displeasure over this incident.'

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen described Mr Leung and Mr Wong's protests as 'further than extreme'.

Mr Tang said said the community would not condone any unruly behaviour that disrupted legco proceedings. But Ivan Choy Tsz-keung, senior lecturer of government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says from a political and public relations perspective, such actions would not necessarily undermine their credibility.

'Legislators can voice public opinion to the government, and that is also furthering their political goals,' says Professor Choy.

'We should understand the legislators' intentions and what they are striving for.'

According to Professor Choy, the worst that could happen to Mr Leung and Mr Wong was that they would be asked to leave the Legco building.