Budget price is right for Hong Kong pan-democrats

U-turn on handouts for the poor, lack of opposition to funding proposals and silence on the slogans front suggest the ‘grand reconciliation’ is taking shape

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 7:29am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 7:29am

Say what you like about the pan-democrats, they are not cheap. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been accused of trying to buy good relations with the Democratic Party with a personal donation of HK$30,000 at a fundraising banquet this week.

Well, not with HK$30,000; HK$11 billion is more like it. Under intense criticism ever since his budget speech for not making any cash handout, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has made a U-turn and is now committed to giving more than 2.8 million Hongkongers on low incomes or from poor households HK$4,000 each.

It looks suspiciously like a quid pro quo. How do we know? On Thursday, not a single pan-democrat lawmaker showed up at a Legislative Council meeting that approved HK$113.1 billion to bridge a funding gap before Chan’s new budget is approved.

2.8 million Hongkongers to get cash handout of up to HK$4,000 each

That amounts to a quarter of the total budget. A handful of pro-government lawmakers showed up, using all of two minutes to vote and pass the funding.

A bit of Legco history. The opposition traditionally would let such funding pass and instead focus on fighting the actual budget with the government.

But in March 2011, after a bitter filibustering from the pan-dems who collectively abstained from voting, the pro-government bloc couldn’t muster a clean majority needed to pass the funding request. Ever since, such funding has become a sensitive battleground.

Until recently, People Power’s Chan Chi-chuen, Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and independent Eddie Chu Hoi-dick had threatened fire and brimstone. On Thursday, they were nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, in what may be called reverse filibustering, the opposition has reached a deal with the government to speed through funding proposals for schools and hospitals, to clear a mounting backlog in Legco.

Pan-democrats agree to speed up some Legco bills to ease backlog

And there has been a minor episode, captured on Cable TV this week, which may be indicative of the new political mood.

While a large group of opposition lawmakers including newly elected Au Nok-hin and Gary Fan Kwok-wai were getting ready for questions and answers with reporters, someone suggested they should all shout “an end to one-party dictatorship”.

National People’s Congress Standing Committee member Tam Yiu-chung and Beijing’s liaison office in Macau deputy director Chen Sixi have said shouting such slogans may get you disqualified.

Everyone in that group sounded unenthusiastic until someone suggested not doing it, and that was the end of it.

Is this what is meant by “grand reconciliation”? We will see.