Reform debate exposes lawmakers' true colours

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 June, 2010, 12:00am

The Legislative Council has finally approved the 2012 constitutional reform package. The lengthy debate focused mostly on the resolution for electing the legislature. All 59 lawmakers who voted on the package spoke during the session. And they not only stated their views, they also exposed their character. In short, the debate revealed their true colours.

The Democrats who supported the revised reform package and those pan-democrats who opposed it held their ground in the showdown. Pro-establishment lawmakers who were supposed to give their unwavering support to the government seemed unwilling to, and were almost bitter when they spoke. It was definitely an eye-opener.

Lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee made fun of the government, saying its Act Now campaign was a failure because it allowed the Democrats to take credit for the success in passing the reform package.

While wagging an accusatory finger at the government, Ip seemed to have forgotten that, when she was secretary for security in 2003, she became public enemy No 1 for advocating the Article 23 national security bill.

That prompted 500,000 people to march on July 1 that year. After the proposed legislation was withdrawn, Ip became the first principal official to resign from the government, and the controversy led to the downfall of chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. That was a policy catastrophe. Ip would do well to reflect on her mistakes. Meanwhile, pro-establishment lawmakers like those from the Liberal Party were politically naive; with the package poised for approval, they should have taken advantage of the situation and claimed some credit for supporting the administration all along.

It was absurd for Vincent Fang Kang, of the wholesale and retail sector, to harp on the pro-government camp's resistance to the laws on anti-smoking and food labelling, and the levy on plastic bags, as if it proved functional lawmakers' worth. Did it not occur to him that these issues were in fact widely supported by the public?

By emphasising functional lawmakers' opposition to these issues of public concern, Fang unintentionally strengthened the popular argument to abolish functional seats. He was simply digging himself and his party colleagues into a bigger hole.

Examples of political stupidity abounded. Catering industry legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who became the target of public wrath for suggesting a minimum wage of HK$20 an hour, was still trying to defend his idea.

Then we have the Civic Party's Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee of the legal sector - a pan-democrat who has benefited from the small-circle election of the functional set-up.

We must take what she said with a big pinch of salt, especially her criticism of the five new district council functional seats on the grounds that their nomination would not be representative. While the district council candidates will be nominated by the 400 district councillors, the legal functional constituency has a nomination pool of 6,000, she said.

Ng should be reminded that the difference between what is democratic and what is not is one of quality, not quantity. The fact is that the 400 district councillors have been returned in a democratic process, compared to 6,000 in the legal sector who are merely members of a profession.

In the end, we must not forget that even though the five new district council seats will be open to voting by more than 3 million Hongkongers, they still belong to the small-circle functional sector and cannot be compared with seats in geographical constituencies that are returned by direct elections.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.