How pan-democrats can win back the public: show real commitment in the legislature, avoid empty posturing

  • Albert Cheng says the pro-democracy camp in the Legislative Council is being oppressed and not fighting back. To regain the role of government monitor, the pan-dems should join, and claim bigger roles in, all Legco committees
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 6:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2018, 7:46pm

Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick has been unreasonably disqualified from a rural representative election. The returning officer for the election of non-indigenous village head of Yuen Kong San Tsuen, in Yuen Long, claimed Chu’s nomination was invalid because he had “implicitly” supported self-determination for Hong Kong. The decision appeared to have no legal basis. As a result, the system has been turned upside down, with elections existing in name only and seemingly controlled by the administration. All nominees have to go through the administration’s screening process to qualify as candidates. Even if pro-democrats are elected, they could still face disqualification at any time if they touch a raw nerve of the government.

Elections aside, the opposition camp in the Legislative Council has been largely suppressed. These days, lawmakers don’t need to try anything radical to be expelled by council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, who holds all the trump cards. During the chief executive’s recent questions and answer session, pro-democrats got expelled again, for chanting slogans to protest against Chu’s disqualification. Leung’s overreaction was absurd.

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The pro-democracy camp, now in the minority in Legco, has lost its veto power. To add insult to injury, amendments to the council’s rules of procedure have been proposed, and a tougher line on misbehaviour might be taken: for example, lawmakers could be fined or suspended for disorderly conduct. Pro-democrats are not on tenterhooks; there is nothing they can do when the decision on how and when to tighten the rules is entirely up to the pro-establishment bloc.

Misfortune never comes alone: the government has pressed charges against pro-democratic lawmakers Lam Cheuk-ting and Andrew Wan Siu-kin. They are both accused of violating the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance during a debate on the controversial co-location bill, by obstructing the security guards who were removing them. Clearly, Legco president Leung is abusing his power.

This sorry state of affairs is a result of the oath-taking saga, a consequence of the reckless actions of radical localists and pro-democrats. Along with its loss of veto power, the opposition has also lost the option of filibustering, following amendments to the rules of procedure. Effectively, it is fighting a losing battle. If the opposition camp in another region were to be oppressed in this way, it would have triggered a public uproar. However, Hongkongers have been numbed by wave after wave of political struggle. Radical resistance, as well as non-violent opposition, has failed and not a thing has changed. People feel helpless, disheartened. This is why voters have stopped showing up, and why pan-democrats have lost two recent by-elections.

The pro-democracy camp needs to reassess the situation: high-risk radical action and ineffective non-violent resistance are no longer options. To reconnect with the public and their supporters, they should take time to reflect on their performance in Legco. The public no longer buys empty posturing in meetings or on important occasions. The pan-democrats have to show Hongkongers they are fully committed to all issues in the council. This is the only way.

First, they should join each of the Legco committees, and find some safety in numbers. They could fight for an even distribution of chairmanships and deputy chairmanships of the committees, to regain the role of monitoring the government.

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Currently, the pro-establishment bloc has claimed the lead roles in most of the committees. Instead of fighting back, the pan-democrats are apportioning blame for their unfavourable situation. They are vulnerable and weak, submitting to oppression by the pro-establishment bloc and the government. The golden opportunity to strike back is long gone, leaving the pan-democrats with few means of turning the tide.

In the last Legco session, Eddie Chu was the only one who was a member of all 18 committees; the rest were as slothful as the pro-establishment bloc. The pro-democracy camp is riddled with bullet holes, divided and uncommitted. If it does not turn over a new leaf, it can never win back the people. However, pro-democracy lawmakers are unlikely to face the truth any time soon, let along take advice. The rot will set in further.

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