Phone-snatch row: Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui should have resigned to keep his dignity

Albert Cheng says the Democratic Party legislator is owed some loyalty by fellow democrats who failed to defend him from unfair criticism, but what he did was wrong and he should have taken responsibility for his rash behaviour 

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 May, 2018, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 7:52pm

A drama staged at the Legislative Council complex recently has triggered a massive uproar. Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung snatched a civil servant’s phone inside the Legco premises ahead of a bills committee meeting. The pro-establishment camp has opened fire on Hui, seemingly bent on disqualifying another pro-democracy lawmaker, thus ending Hui’s political career. 

Unexpectedly, even some stalwarts of the Democratic Party, such as former chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, have openly condemned Hui’s reckless behaviour. Lau even questioned whether he should remain a lawmaker and a member of the party. Their criticism did not just rub salt in Hui’s wound, it also provided bullets for the pro-establishment camp to shoot him down. 

With the help of government propaganda and the overwhelmingly negative media coverage, the pro-establishment camp may yet succeed in kicking Hui out of Legco. 

Pro-establishment groups join forces to get Ted Hui sacked

There is no question Hui’s rash behaviour was inappropriate, and he may face criminal charges. However, under common law, he is innocent until proven otherwise. 

As well, Hui should have been clearer about his reasons for taking the phone. He tried to justify his actions at first by accusing the government of invading the privacy of lawmakers, which did not make much sense to the public. He should have made clear that he had wanted to expose how the government had been interfering with the independent operation of the legislature by monitoring lawmakers’ movements.

Lawmakers not monitored, just ‘observed’: No 2 official on phone-snatch row

Regardless of Hui’s heedlessness, the government overstated the public opprobrium. I think most people sensibly agree that Hui has done wrong but that it should not cost him his seat. The condemnation of Hui is out of proportion to his offence. 

The Democratic Party’s lack of camaraderie was also disappointing. Hui did wrong, but he should not have been outrageously accused of theft or even indecent assault.  

It is important for a politician to be able to seize the moment. In this case, Hui would have safeguarded his dignity if he had resigned right away. But he did not. Now, he faces a possible censure motion in the Legislative Council. If that is passed, Hui’s political career will come to an end. 

Politicians should be accountable for their actions and resign if they do wrong. Refusing to do so only gives the impression that they are clinging to power. 

Politics is a dirty business (in case you didn’t already know)

In this regard, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa set a bad precedent. When Tung was in office, a scandal over shoddy housing construction broke and the then chairperson of the Housing Authority, Rosanna Wong Yick-ming, had intended to resign. However, Tung did not approve her resignation until a motion of no confidence on Wong was moved in Legco.  

Similarly, then financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung should have apologised and resigned as soon as the “Lexusgate” scandal broke. His political career would not have ended right there if he had. 

Among all our principal officials, only former health secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong has done the honorable thing. He took responsibility for the government’s initially ham-fisted handling of the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak and resigned in 2004.  

It has been disappointing to see some pro-democracy politicians criticise the woman executive officer who was the victim in the phone-snatching row. They said she should openly explain to the public what really happened. This is foolish, as civil servants should not be dragged into political conflicts.  

Also, from a practical point of view, if the executive officer told her side of the story, it would surely contradict Hui’s accusation that the administration has been interfering with the operation of the legislature. Obviously, this would only benefit the pro-establishment camp and the government. 

With a bunch of fools for pro-democracy politicians, no wonder the Hong Kong people see no hope on the path to democracy.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]