Herd instincts of Hong Kong's pro-establishment lawmakers point to woeful lack of talent in politics

Gary Cheung says independence of thought appears to be sorely missing in the Beijing loyalist camp, and this includes the party's new leader

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 July, 2015, 2:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 July, 2015, 2:40pm

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, raised some eyebrows with her down-to-earth question at the chief executive's question-and-answer session last Thursday.

Lee's was the opening question at Leung's first encounter with lawmakers since the rejection of the electoral reform package in Legco last month. She asked what action the government would take to tackle the hygiene black spots in the city. In response, Leung unveiled a plan for a citywide campaign to clean the streets.

Lee's question fell short of the expectations of many people who believed that, as an executive councillor and leader of Hong Kong's biggest party, she should have raised a bigger issue - such as how the government planned to improve relations with the pan-democrats in the post-reform era.

The accountant-turned-politician is still seen as lacking character and strong personal style, three months after taking the helm of the DAB. Unlike her predecessors Tam Yiu-chung and Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who led the party through some hard times, Lee has yet to show the charisma expected of her. Instead, the softly spoken lawmaker always chooses her words carefully and seldom departs from the expected line.

Tam still has a leading role in the pro-establishment camp even after stepping down as DAB chairman. Lee was nearly invisible in the botched walkout by 31 pro-establishment lawmakers from the legislature seconds before the historic vote on the government's electoral reform package - except that she joined the bungled move.

Lee, who has been groomed for bigger things by veteran DAB leaders since she joined in 2004, is not the only pro-establishment lawmaker who lacks character. Ng Leung-sing, the lawmaker for the finance sector, told the media after the walkout that he simply "followed the footsteps of other colleagues first, without asking any questions".

His reply was reminiscent of the famous quote by Lin Biao , once Mao Zedong's anointed successor during the Cultural Revolution, that "we must implement Chairman Mao's instructions even if we don't understand them".

At the core of such a mentality is the lack of independent thinking among many pro-establishment legislators. It was no accident that many followed others to leave the chamber apparently without knowing why (instigators of the walkout said it was intended to delay proceedings so rural kingpin Lau Wong-fat could arrive in time to vote).

Fourteen pro-establishment lawmakers, including Ng, were returned unopposed in various functional constituencies in the 2012 Legco election; they did not have to put themselves to the electoral test and win over constituents.

Unlike the pro-establishment politicians who have Beijing's blessings and enormous resources, pan-democratic lawmakers have to struggle to stand on their own feet. Generally speaking, they are more knowledgeable about Legco operations and the rules of procedure. It is hard to imagine them making a similar mistake.

Shortly before the handover, Jasper Tsang told me that the lack of talent was a major obstacle facing the DAB. His words still apply today, and to the whole pro-establishment camp.

The bungled walkout sparked conspiracy theories, from Beijing ordering all pro-establishment lawmakers to be present in the Legco chamber at all costs to press the "yes" button, to the central government attempting to halt the meeting to buy time to win over some pan-democrats.

But as Napoleon reminded us, two centuries ago: "Never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by incompetence."

Gary Cheung is the Post's political editor