Pan-democrats lost credibility by staying silent during filibuster

Alice Wu says that by sitting on their hands during the latest Legco filibuster, pan-democrat lawmakers lost all political credibility

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 5:00am

When the radicals made their debut in the Legislative Council during Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's era, they made the then chief executive flinch. Over the years, their pranks have become more sophisticated; their launch pads for bananas now accommodate filibusters. By the look of things today, the only people they seem to have deterred are the pan-democrats, whose eerie silence during the latest filibuster was deafening.

While the "gang of four" took the lawmaking body on yet another political joyride, and while their pro-establishment colleagues cried foul, the pan-democrats sat back, as if they were above the fray.

The reason is easy enough to understand - it's like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Supporting the filibuster would require that they share, if not bear, the brunt of the filibuster's possible ramifications, like disruptions to public services; not supporting it would mean more ammunition for the radicals to call them nasty names. But political lounging doesn't mean they are above the fray. Rather, they have been sidelined. While the radicals and pro-establishment camp used this opportunity to cement their support base, the pan-democrats' decision was political suicide.

Each day the filibuster drama went on just added to their political irrelevance. They have relinquished the powers vested in them by their electorate. They have relinquished their electorate's hopes that they could rein in the radicals, step up to the plate and be politically indispensable. Surely there is a gulf between the two extremes of "obstruct at all costs" and "accommodate at all costs". But the message they essentially sent to those in the middle was: don't look at us. When people can't "look to you" at crucial political flashpoints, they will learn to look elsewhere.

When the moment came for the Legco president to put an end to the nonsense, they committed another grave error: by choosing that time to wake from their political stupor and - smouldering with indignation - deciding to make a scapegoat out of Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.

But throwing their torches at the Legco president only illuminated their powerlessness. It was a feeble attempt to win political favours. Those who disagree with ending the filibuster will side with those who launched and supported it. Those who saw this filibuster as a frivolous exercise in time-wasting will remember the pan-democrats for their silent response to their fury.

Instead of lamenting the fear that "people will feel we are wasting time", as Civic Party legislator Ronny Tong Ka-wah put it, the pan-democrats should be thinking seriously about how they can undo the self-inflicted damage. The radicals played a game of chicken, and the pan-democrats chickened out. The pro-establishment camp answered those taunts, and delivered what its supporters asked for.

You can't have things both ways. If there were concerns of time wasting, then there should have been a strong stance against the abuse of minority powers. Copping out and believing there would be no consequences is naive. Political cowardice is so blindingly obvious, it is very hard to miss.

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