Cheap shots

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2011, 12:00am

As significant as the Legislative Council's rejection of the government's interim funding proposal has been, it pales in comparison to the topsy-turvy politics that followed. Now that the dust has settled - and a revised initial government expenditure has been passed to avoid a lockdown - we can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief. But it is also the time to straighten out some of the belligerent arguments put forward during the week of budget uncertainty.

Let us begin with the pan-democrats, who, by abstaining from the vote, appeared to be the ones to blame for the mini-crisis. Their decision on the vote was not wrong; they had agreed among themselves to use their vote as a 'political gesture' to put on record their displeasure over the revised budget measures.

But, obviously, something did go wrong. They, for one, did not expect the proposal to actually be defeated. The finger-pointing that began immediately after the vote unsettled them; some feared that the public, once it heard news of the voting, would see itself as a victim of their 'gesture'.

Of course, we expect nothing less from our politicians. A whiff of controversy and they begin their knee-jerk 'don't blame me, blame them' reactions.

It did not seem to have occurred to the pan-democrats that the public might react strongly if they succeeded in voting down the interim budget; they voted out of principle. Worse, by not standing their ground after the vote, they dug an even deeper hole for themselves. Instead of accepting the consequences of their actions, they laid the blame on the pro-establishment camp, saying those legislators should have been there to support the vote - implying that they themselves should have been allowed to grandstand without consequences. Surely, this is the quickest way to lose votes - by affirming to the public the importance of their opponents' presence.

Members of the pro-establishment camp - many of whom were out of town to attend congressional meetings in Beijing - were just as surprised as the pan-democrats by the outcome of the vote.

Away from their duties at home, which they seemed to have forgotten about, they waved their finger of fury at their political opponents, even as they dashed to side with the public.

Some suggested Legco meetings should be suspended during the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. This line of reasoning glossed over their responsibility as lawmakers of this city. Their biggest mistake was not that they naively expected the opposition camp to behave themselves while they were away; it was that they seemed to have forgotten their mandate as local lawmakers. There is no reason why they couldn't have co-ordinated their attendance in Hong Kong and Beijing.

With five district council seats to be added to the next Legco, some lawmakers may end up wearing three hats. According to their logic, then, it is hard to imagine how the elected legislator could function in any capacity.

Legco's president, a CPPCC member himself, presided over that fateful Legco meeting. If he can do it, so can the others. Assigning 'shifts' and scheduling more round-trip tickets are not rocket science; and the fact they did not even consider juggling their schedules is unthinkable.

Some were even indignant that the government had not 'called' for their return for the vote. But that is absurd; it is like waiting for the dinner bell to be rung before realising it's time to eat, as if they expect to be told what to do. If that were true, it would only confirm their political opponents' claims that they are nothing more than government lackeys.

A little over a week ago, unionist lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan openly called Hong Kong people 'cheap' for taking the HK$6,000 cash giveaway. But, perhaps, what is more accurate is how truly 'cheap' their political mumbo-jumbo has become.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA