My Take

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Democrat legislator Helena Wong is paying the price for doing the right thing: helping to pass an education funding bill that has the backing of lawmakers – and public – across the political spectrum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 1:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 1:48am

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Democrat Helena Wong Pik-wan knows all about it. The Legislative Council’s Finance Committee passed a popular education funding bill worth HK$3.6 billion a year in the nick of time last week. That’s largely thanks to unusual coordination between Wong and committee chairman Chan Kin-por. Now, she is being denounced by her own people. Never mind her action actually saved the pan-democrats a modicum of credibility by making sure the funding bill was passed.

Things could have turned out very differently as the opposition and pro-government camps were busy playing politics during the last committee session before the summer recess. Pan-democrats and localist radicals were filibustering by filing more than 20 non-binding motions in the last hour. Knowing the bill was widely popular – especially among educators – pro-establishment lawmakers were happy to let the opposition sabotage it and take the blame.

The pan-dems were angry after four more of their colleagues were disqualified by the High Court over improper oath-taking and were determined to oppose anything the government was backing. In this case, it just happened to be the funding bill. But they themselves had fought hard for its contents – subsidising self-financing degree students, and hiring more full-time teachers and expert in special needs education and information technology in primary and secondary schools.

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Alarmed by the insanity in the opposition camp and cynicism among his own pro-establishment colleagues, Chan slipped a note to Wong begging her to do something. Wong then caught her fellow pan-democrats by surprise and requested shortening the voting time of each motion. This was promptly granted and so the funding bill was passed.

Pan-democrats now claim they would have halted their filibustering at the last minute to pass the bill and that Wong was being played like a fool. Wong posted a message on the internet to explain her action but it was promptly deleted by her own party. Yes, pan-democrats do practise self-censorship.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai held a closed-door meeting with members of other opposition groups – yes, they do hold meetings closed to the public – and reportedly apologised on Wong’s behalf. Wong has, of course, saved her own party and the opposition from public criticism and ridicule if the bill hadn’t been passed.

But these days, moderation and common sense are considered vices among the opposition.