National anthem law is proving to be the pan-democrats’ Waterloo

  • Pan-dems once vowed to oppose the proposed law, which will make disrespecting the anthem a criminal offence
  • But now, barring a few diehard holdouts, the opposition will vote in favour of the bill
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 9:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 2:44pm

The moral collapse of the pan-democratic opposition has been spectacular to behold. One clear sign of its sorry state is its general acceptance of the upcoming national anthem law. It has, basically, rolled over for the government.

Pan-dems once vowed to oppose the proposed law, which will make disrespecting the anthem a criminal offence and may be ready for the Legislative Council in the next few weeks. Now, though, barring a few diehard holdouts, the opposition will vote in favour of the bill.

It seems only yesterday that the pan-dems warned there was no place to apply such a national law to Hong Kong, which will make abusing or distorting March of the Volunteers punishable by a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and three years in jail. Of course, some will huff and puff along the way. For example, a few now object to a plan to play the anthem before the swearing-in ceremony for lawmakers. But this just shows they have accepted the law as inevitable, and only hope to tweak it.

Opposition legislator Claudia Mo Man-ching has likened the anthem proposal for Legco oath-taking to “political threats and censorship”. And fellow independent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick argued the chief executive should not have the power to make such decisions. Under the proposed law, the chief executive will have discretion to decide on what occasions to play the anthem, which likely will include the oath-taking for the chief executive, and members of the Executive Council and Legco.

Interestingly, the Democratic Party has already caved. Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said it would not be unreasonable to play the national anthem before lawmakers’ oaths.

Given the ruthlessness with which the government has disqualified people not only from Legco but even rural elections, opposition figures don’t really have a choice, at least not those who contemplate an electoral future as politicians. Election officials now have extraordinary latitude in selecting “evidence” to disqualify someone from an election if they have made supportive statements about Hong Kong independence and even full autonomy or self-determination. Rejecting the national anthem bill will almost certainly be taken as such evidence.

Chu may be one of the few to have the luxury to vote against the bill. He was disqualified early this month from running in a rural representative election and will unlikely be allowed to run in the next Legco election in 2020. That’s one way to go down in style.