Hong Kong’s disruptive politics is here to stay as an outlet for public frustration
Alice Wu says there is a high cost to society of obstructionist politics in the Legislative Council, through disqualifying lawmakers and holding by-elections, but as long as people remain discontented with the government, the dysfunction will continue
We’re almost halfway through the current term of the Legislative Council, and we’re still stuck “resolving” incidents that occurred in the first month. Of the six disqualified lawmakers, who were stripped of their seats nine months into their term by the High Court for their unconstitutional oath-taking, only four have been replaced. It was only last week that the Legco Commission reached the decision not to pursue claims for the full salaries of ousted Edward Yiu Chung-yim, Lau Siu-lai, Leung Kwok-hung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung. And the Legco investigative committee has issued its report on flag-flipping lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai, recommending a censure motion to be tabled in early May, which could remove him from his seat.
As a society, we are still paying the price of those obnoxious and frivolous political stunts. The public costs for by-elections are enormous. Some recent reports have put a HK$80 million price tag on the five years of obstructionist politics in Legco. The investigation into the matter of censuring Cheng took more than a year to complete. For the 37 flags Cheng childishly turned over, a disproportionate amount of public resources had to be used to produce a 700-plus page report, that is unlikely to result in his censure.
Watch: Lau Siu-la takes the oath in slow-motion
Instead of letting the few get away with their increasingly disruptive antics without having to bear any consequences, some argue that at least these efforts made them accountable, forcing them to face the possibility of repercussions. It’s true that the March 11 by-election winners were successfully sworn in without incident, but the very costly process of disqualification has only treated the symptoms and not the cause of our increasingly dysfunctional, reckless and undignified politics.
We must face the fact that we have travelled some distance before arriving at this point. And while blaming Beijing is always the easy option, it’s hard to ignore that it began with the small stuff, such as bullying government officials in Legco, which we took as political entertainment, and hurling insults and things, which could be laughed at as long as we were not the ones in harm’s way. Maybe these antics hit just the right nerve, resonating with growing public frustration over ineffective public policies, but they also nurtured the rise of frivolous political parties and politicians.
Cheng’s party – Civic Passion – is a disruptive political entity that has thrived on public anger. Certainly, it wasn’t expected to come up with solutions to our social ills. Its entire existence is to create high drama, stir the pot, serving no real purpose other than political sabotage, most notably against traditional democrats – first by holding alternative June 4 events and by running against the democrats and splitting the vote in elections. Cheng made his political debut as a saboteur in the 2015 district council elections, costing Democrat heavyweight Albert Ho Chun-yan his seat.
Recall the recording of Cheng’s abusive and offensive comments at an internal party meeting that was made public last summer. In addition to his very unkind words towards Youngspiration members, he called the voting public “retarded”. When questioned, he proudly admitted to having said all of that, and continued his disparaging rampage by further calling some voters mentally challenged. His proud display and celebration of antisocial behaviour and obvious lack of empathy is shocking.
There are other factors that incite political brinkmanship: our increasing political polarisation and fragmentation. Cheng won with about six per cent of the vote in the New Territories West Legco election – it pays to break from and sabotage traditional parties. When traditional parties have an abrupt and sweeping change of the guard, the lack of political heavyweights make winning easier for the politically outrageous.
There has been a lot of talk about creating favourable conditions to enact national security legislation. Well, the conditions that favour disruptive politics have only got more favourable. If the current administration falls short on delivering in areas like housing, it will make outrageous politics a permanent feature for this city.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA