Rise of the radicals will plunge the legislature, and Hong Kong, into more chaos
Ronny Tong says the new localist lawmakers will be a force to reckon with and may well take over leadership of the democrats, leading to all-out confrontation with the administration and Beijing
While some say the Legislative Council election results are surprising, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Beijing’s white paper on Hong Kong, Occupy Central, the failure of the last attempt at political reform, the Lunar New Year riots in Mong Kok, the missing booksellers and the rejection of the candidacy of popular new political star Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous – plus other incidents threatening “one country, two systems” – all served to ignite the wrath of the young and discontented to vote for radicals to get into Legco. They got their wish on September 4.
Overall, the democrats (I prefer this generic term rather than the traditional term “pan-democrats”, as many newcomers in this group have a very different political ideology from the traditional pan-dems) have gained one seat in the districts and one in the functional constituencies, getting a total of 29. If you also count Pierre Chan Pui-yin of the medical sector as a democrat, then democrats have reached a historic figure of 30 seats. While this number will not topple the majority, it will help the democrats not only maintain their veto power in the directly elected division in Legco, but also directly threaten the pro-government majority.
This is because in any government-sponsored legislation or resolution, not counting the president who cannot vote, the pro-establishment majority margin is now only four. This definitely does not bode well for the government.
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More specifically, the six newly elected candidates backing localism and self-determination, plus Edward Yiu Chung-yim in the architecture sector, now stand to become the largest political force in Legco on the democrat side. While there are very different political ideologies within this group, they share a common political propensity: they are not afraid to seize control of any meeting by physical force. They have openly said in interviews following the election that occupying the chairman’s or president’s place in any Legco meeting and seizing his microphone by force is now “standard play”. They, together with “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung from the League of Social Democrats and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People Power will increase the filibustering legislators from a previous four to a formidable force of nine. Even in the absence of Raymond Wong Yuk-man who failed to retain his seat, this is a force to reckon with.
In terms of ideology, any political reform within the boundaries of the Basic Law will clearly not be agreeable to these nine. For this reason alone, any chance of restarting the reform process when the next government comes into power next year must be considerably reduced to a near impossibility.
On the traditional pan-democrat side, with all the old guard either stepping down or being ousted by voters, the ability to steadfastly resist the leadership of these nine must be seen as waning fast. This is because the new leadership of the major democratic parties can be considered weak – at best – even by comparison with the previous leadership. The Democratic Party is now the largest in this group, but with Albert Ho Chun-yan and Emily Lau Wai-hing stepping down, the new leader is likely to be Wu Chi-wai who is yet to prove he is of strong character. The same is true of Tanya Chan Suk-chong, likely to take over from Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-hit, who is just as weak in terms of resisting being led by the radicals. The party will probably continue to sway like willows in the wind, as has been seen in the unhappy sagas of the copyright bill and medical reform bill.
As to the rest, the Labour Party is now down to one Legco member, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who is mainly focused on social welfare issues, while the NeoDemocrats and the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood are now history. The rest of the independent members, like Charles Mok, Kenneth Leung Kai-cheung and Ip Kin-yuen have never been known for their strong political will and views, and this group is therefore unlikely to be a match for, or able to wrestle with, the radical nine.
Thus, it can be seen that not only will there be a new political force in Legco, this new force is likely to threaten to take over leadership of the democrats. The pan-democrats will probably simply take a back seat in all controversies and generally be led into various strong-action tactics without much demur. If Leung Chun-ying is re-elected chief executive for the next five years, you can bet your last dollar that Hong Kong will move quickly towards all-out confrontation with the Hong Kong and central governments, and everyone will suffer as a result.
So here we are, running down a wet and slippery path. If you think Legco has been a dysfunctional mess over the past two years, you have seen nothing yet. We need a sign. A sign that things can get back on an even keel within the boundaries of the Basic Law or things will probably get quickly out of hand. Perhaps better still, we need a miracle, although I do believe all miracles are man-made.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, SC, a former legislator, is convenor of the think tank Path of Democracy