Government accused of 'punishing' parties at anniversary celebrations
Is the government making clear just which pro-establishment parties are in favour through attendance levels at anniversary celebrations?
It was a good day for the progovernment Business and Professionals Alliance yesterday, as they celebrated their first anniversary with financial chief and acting chief executive John Tsang Chun-wah and 12 ministers - a sharp contrast in official treatment to the Liberal Party's 20th anniversary dinner a day earlier, to which only several undersecretaries turned up.
The disparity raised questions about whether the government was being "intolerant" towards its former staunch allies and punishing them for supporting Leung's rival Henry Tang Ying-yen in the chief executive election - and joining forces with the pan-democrats to back the ill-fated motion for an investigation into the government's free-to-air TV licensing decision.
Liberals also backed pan-democrats' calls for education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim to quit amid huge protests against a national education curriculum, and for Legco to investigate the failure of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange, set up by key Leung aide Barry Cheung Chun-yuen.
A government source confirmed that ministers were "told" not to attend the Liberals' function on Monday, but it wasn't specified if the instruction came from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's office.
Tsang's press secretary said the minister was absent from Monday's celebration because he was occupied with his work, while a spokesman for Leung's office reiterated that ministers chose to attend functions based on their own schedules. He declined to comment further.
The Liberals' vice-chairman Felix Chung Kwok-pan was not convinced. He said the government's attitude could make it harder to earn the party's support in the Legislative Council. "In the past, we have decided to back the government on some controversial matters, but now, if something is hard for us to support, we will stand [more firmly] on the people's side," he warned.
Chung added: "We will continue to scrutinise the government's policies rationally."
New People's Party vice-chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun believes the administration was trying to impress other, more loyal lawmakers. "But officials also need to evaluate this incident, and think about how to find the right balance between lawmakers' sentiments and social perception," Tien added.
Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said the government's preferential attitude was regrettable. "Is it a lack of political tolerance? How can the Liberals support the government in the future?" she asked.
In January, Leung and his top ministers - Tsang, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung - attended the New People's Party's second anniversary.
In July, Beijing's liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming attended the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong's anniversary celebration, but his office only sent a departmental chief on Monday.
In addition, Lam, Tsang and environment minister Wong Kam-sing all turned up at a Democratic Party anniversary dinner in October.