All sides must compromise in lawmakers’ oath-taking fiasco if Hong Kong is ever to move on
Albert Cheng says officials need to drop their inflammatory bid for a judicial review, and the Legco newcomers must apologise for their offensive behaviour
It is not without precedent for legislators to play tricks while taking the oath of office. It is, however, the first time that the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the special administrative region have been entangled in such a political mess because of political posturing like this. In the past, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Wong Yuk-man used the oath-taking to show their disobedience. They attracted the desired attention and subsequently retook the oath.
Legco newcomers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching wanted to make an impressive debut by highlighting their calls for independence from China. They injected vulgar and insulting words into their oaths and have now found themselves at the edge of being disqualified.
The fiasco started last week when Legco secretary general Kenneth Chen Wei-on invalidated the oaths taken by Leung, Yau and Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who represents the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape constituency. The new Legco president, Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, later declared that two more oaths were invalid. He agreed to give a second chance to the five lawmakers at the next sitting.
Then out of the blue, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying instructed Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung to file a last-minute request to the High Court, questioning the legality of the Legco president’s decision to allow Yau and Sixtus Leung to retake the oath. The court refused to grant an injunction to prohibit the two from completing the oath of office but the judge did accept the case for a judicial review.
The two young politicians are arrogant to the point of being naive. Leung tried to explain away his racist reference to “Cheena” by suggesting he had an Ap Lei Chau accent. Many residents, especially those who suffered in the Sino-Japanese war, find this offensive.
The pair pledged to read out the official version of the oath at the next sitting. However, the pro-Beijing camp, apparently on orders from Beijing’s liaison office here, staged a walkout, forcing an adjournment. The pair were thus denied the chance of taking office. Lau Siu-lai, who was supposed to retake the oath after the pair, became a victim of collateral damage.
Leung Chun-ying acted like a charlatan who sells quack remedies. A judicial review is hardly the way to resolve the stand-off. His move will only make the emotive issue even more explosive. The proper way forward is for the case to be withdrawn. This will allow the assembly of elected representatives to resolve the matter within the bounds of their rules.
The courts will hear the case on November 3. The pro-establishment camp is set to continue with their tactics of not meeting a quorum for at least the next two sittings. The plan, engineered by Paul Tse Wai-chun, is meant to press the two deviant newcomers into making an apology. Legco has become the real victim as it will not be able to conduct its normal business.
Whichever way the court ruling goes, there is bound to be a case for appeal, which will only prolong the gridlock and legislative inaction.
The authorities look determined to block the pair from the council. There is even talk about the possibility of asking the National People’s Congress for an interpretation of the Basic Law, if the government loses its judicial review. That would deal a heavy blow to judicial independence in Hong Kong.
The other 67 councillors who have completed the swearing-in formality are duty-bound to protect the integrity of the assembly. Pro-establishment councillors should allow the pair a second chance to take their oaths. If they continue not to take it seriously, the council as a whole can then take action as prescribed by law to kick them out.
Meanwhile, Sixtus Leung and Yau insist they won’t apologise. The pair have started off on the wrong foot and painted themselves into a corner. There is little public sympathy for them. They owe it to the public, and themselves, to put right their wrong. The only option is to express remorse and then take the oath faithfully. Compromising is not an admission of defeat. It takes a strong mind to compromise. Sometimes it is the best way to avoid being knocked down by people with a hidden agenda.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. email@example.com