Carrie Lam’s welfare cuts should have taught pro-establishment legislators a lesson: no more rubber stamping

  • Alice Wu says the chief executive once congratulated herself for improving relations with Legco, but her changes to elderly welfare payments have instead united rival legislators against her
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2019, 2:17pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2019, 8:25pm

Only a little more than six months ago, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor gave herself a big hearty pat on the back for a job well done. In her self-assessment of the city’s governance in her first year in office, she said on July 1 that she was satisfied with, among other things, the improved relationship with the legislature.

By the look of things, any perceived improvement seems to have gone down the drain, along with her approval ratings, which, according to a recent public opinion survey, is linked to her sheltering the political freeloader on her team. However, we can’t blame everything on Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, since Lam did her share to poison the relationship.

It’s hard to imagine why Lam would expect that increasing the minimum age from 60 to 65 for elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) payments would go without incident. But, by the look of things, Lam wasn’t feigning “shock” over the cross-political-spectrum opposition to the government’s plans to take from the elderly poor.

Lam recently claimed she had given her secretary for justice some public relations pointers on public perception, but did she forget to practice what she preached? Surely, there are no political gains to be had from being seen as insisting on taking from the most helpless and vulnerable in society. And her seemingly endless supply of insensitive comments – like how she, too, is “old” but still works 10 hours a day – certainly doesn’t help. It’s simply political suicide for any directly elected lawmaker to not raise hell over it.

Why didn’t the chief executive call for a meeting with pro-establishment lawmakers before the vote on a non-binding motion for her administration to shelve the age threshold increase? In a dramatic display in the Legislative Council, bitter political rivals crossed the aisle and temporarily buried their many hatchets to join forces in opposition. Lam may have inadvertently facilitated the greatest political reconciliation in the chamber in recent years.

This political crisis was brought on by Lam herself. In reality, it is a shameless display of how the government takes the pro-establishment camp’s unwavering support for granted. It is also, more importantly, an important wake-up call for the entire camp.

Carrie Lam is wrong to cut elderly welfare, but will she admit it?

They have been treated as cheap rubber stamps by the government before, and it would be wise for them to revisit lessons from history.

Did they, for example, learn anything from the political crisis brought on by the government’s attempt to ram through Article 23 national security legislation in 2003 – and the political fallout that resulted in a devastating electoral setback for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong for its support for the administration?

One clear lesson would be the urgent need to take steps to redefine their relationship with a government that obviously takes advantage of them and does not care about the political price they have to pay for the support that is taken for granted.

The late chairman of the DAB, Ma Lik, said in 2003 that his party had a lot of serious soul-searching to do, and that it must retune itself with the voice of the people, realign itself with the will of the people and reposition itself in its relationship with the government.

Ma’s advice is as relevant today as it was back then. Instead of having to suffer at the polls first, pro-establishment parties must act now if they wishes to avoid any repeats of history.

With a pretty bleak economic outlook this year and an apathetic and out-of-touch government, the perfect political storm is brewing once again.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA