image

Legislative Council oath-taking saga

The divide in Hong Kong politics must not be allowed to deepen

The disqualification of four opposition lawmakers has raised the political temperature, but all sides must exercise restraint to make sure the city’s interests are not damaged

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 1:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 1:53am

Uncertainties abound in Hong Kong politics after another four pro-democracy lawmakers were unseated for failing to take their oaths of office correctly. What is clear, though, is that we cannot afford to raise the political stakes even higher. All sides, including the government, the pan-democrats and the establishment camp, must exercise restraint lest the divide deepens.

That the situation has quickly turned around in the wake of the court ruling last Friday is to be expected. Although the two legal battles against the six disqualified lawmakers were launched by the former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, they have a far-reaching impact on the relations between the pan-democrats and the new government.

The political bombshell means Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s “honeymoon” will come to an abrupt end; instead she faces a real test of her political wisdom and skills.

I won’t target more Hong Kong pan-democrats, Lam says

The court ruling has been seen by some as an affront to the tens of thousands of voters who returned the six lawmakers. Also worthy of concern is the change in the balance of power in the legislature. It may be difficult now for the pan-democrats to win back enough seats in the by-elections to maintain checks and balances, and the shift may enable the government and the establishment camp to push through laws and house rules unacceptable to the pan-democrats.

The pan-democrats understandably find reconciliation difficult without assurances from the new government. Suggestions range from waiving the legal fees owed by the disqualified lawmakers to an undertaking not to take advantage of the so-called vacuum period. Some members even find blocking funding requests and other government initiatives in revenge justified. But the pan-democrats should gauge public opinion carefully before deciding how far to go. Their actions may backfire if public interest is undermined.

The Lam administration would only say that there is no plan to bring forward other questionable oath-taking cases for a court ruling, although at least another two lawmakers are facing challenges brought by individual citizens. Lam is right in saying that reconciliation and cooperation should not come at the expense of the rule of law. But the pan-democrats are unlikely to concede at this stage. The prospect of more lawsuits and appeals means it may take some time before the disqualification saga settles.

At stake is not just the balance of political power, but more importantly, the issue of whether the city can be governed effectively in the coming years. Both the Lam government and the pan-democrats need to adopt good bargaining tactics. But the overall interests of Hong Kong must not be sacrificed.