Legco president digs himself into a hole

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 May, 2010, 12:00am

The Legislative Council by-elections are only four days away, but the political spotlight is being shone on one key question: did the government pressure the president of the legislature, Tsang Yok-sing, to support its constitutional reform proposal?

Now, speculation is swirling around town and the media is focusing on whose political credibility, exactly, has gone bankrupt. This will have unimaginable political consequences but will do little to encourage people to vote on Sunday.

Looking closer, it is not difficult to see who instigated this self-scripted, self-directed, one-man show. About two weeks ago Tsang revealed during a TV talk show that he would consider resigning from the president's post to vote for the government's reform package.

It immediately stirred up intense debate because, when Tsang ran for the Legislative Council's presidency, he vowed to remain politically neutral.

He would not vote in Legco on any issue, would play no role in running his political party - the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - and make no provocative political comments.

Even though he may resign in order to vote for the reform package, most people would still see that as reneging on his promise.

Then the controversy took another turn last week, when Tsang met a number of pan-democrats to further explain the case. He told them the chief executive had asked him to vote for the reform package, according to pan-democrats who attended the meeting, although this was quickly denied by Tsang and the chief executive.

Tsang is a seasoned politician who is widely regarded as the brains behind the DAB. So it is very hard to believe he has stumbled twice in a row. It is true that the parties in the meeting had agreed not to divulge what was discussed. But it is also widely known that the pan-democrats never play by the rules, and will always talk to the media.

Tsang must know that this is how the pan-democrats work. Before he spoke to them, he must have been well prepared for the consequences. With this in mind, he still apparently chose to talk about how the chief executive or other officials had tried to secure his support for the reform issue.

So we must seriously question his motives. If it was intentional, what was he trying to achieve? This is a question that only the Legco president can answer.

When the news broke, the accusatory finger was first pointed at the government. But the administration issued a statement strongly denying the accusation. If we believe the administration is telling the truth - because its reputation and credibility are on the line - then there's only one question left to ask. If the pan-democrats did not make up the story to frame Tsang, who is telling the truth and who is not?

You could hardly get all 10 pan-democrats in the meeting with Tsang to lie in unison about what was discussed. So, it seems quite clear who has a credibility problem.

Tsang has accused the pan-democrats of taking his words out of context, implying he raised the issue about the government 'seeking his support'.

Any 'misunderstanding', then, would not be the pan-democrats' fault since they did not raise the issue in the first place.

Tsang has a responsibility to clear up the matter and must give a full account of what actually happened. Otherwise he may risk losing a confidence vote and being forced to step down from the presidency. The only 'advantage' then would be that he could vote to support the government's reform proposal.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk