Hong Kong political reform

Anatomy of damage control: examining the fallout after pro-Beijing lawmakers' spectacular own goal

While Liberal Party lawmakers are praised and their colleagues panned, the pro-Beijing camp must repair the damage before two key elections

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 2:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 June, 2015, 8:51am

Part 1: In the wake of the historic defeat of the electoral reform package and the bungled walkout, the Post examines the fallout in the pro-establishment camp

On Thursday night, Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun uploaded a black-and-white picture of a pig on his Facebook page with a sarcastic caption: "How can there be so many conspiracy theories? It's just simply people's incurable stupidity."

Within 17 hours, the post - apparently referring to the botched walkout by his allies just before lawmakers voted on the government's electoral reform proposal - had earned the outspoken lawmaker more than 33,000 likes and 6,400 shares, the most since he launched the official page four years ago.

The fiasco that left the government's reform package with merely eight yes votes not only intensified the split within the pro-establishment camp but unexpectedly created bunches of winners and losers.

The Liberal Party, which swiftly won praise from the central government's liaison office for having all five of its lawmakers stay in the chamber to vote for the plan, is now reaping the harvest after people across the board paid tribute to its "independent thinking".

But the party's colleagues are already feeling the heat.

It is understood that a number of organisations that represent small and-medium-sized enterprises - members of the city's business chambers - have expressed strong dissatisfaction with lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, the representative of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) in Legco, who co-led the walkout.

In an internal message seen by the Post, a key member of the chambers decried Lam for being "irresponsible" and "incapable".

"The HKGCC has long passed a statement to back the political reform, but Lam as its representative has failed to cast a yes vote," the message reads. "We urge HKGCC … to call Lam to account."

And the same happened to the Federation of Trade Unions, whose key voters are from the grassroots rather than tycoons.

"We have received lots of calls and messages from our supporters asking why we were absent from the historic vote," lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin lamented. "Some of them even came to our community offices to express their disappointment."

He said the union would have no choice but to conduct a months-long remedial campaign immediately to soothe its supporters. That will include conducting at least two sessions to meet union members and volunteers, as well as sending representatives to meet people at various housing estates.

The Beijing-loyalists would not have to take such swift action if the district council elections were not merely months away with the Legislative Council polls to follow next year.

Political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said Thursday's fiasco had turned the pro-establishment camp's election strategy upside down and they would now find it harder to urge Hongkongers to "vote pan-democrats out" for denying the public voting rights in the next chief executive race - a slogan frequently used by the camp before the reform vote.

"Talking about the reform saga again will only evoke people's memory of what the pro-Beijing lawmakers did during the vote," said Ma.

The finger-pointing had also widened the rift within the camp and posed uncertainties ahead of the elections, Ma said.

Liberal chairman Felix Chung Kwok-pan admitted the incident had had a positive impact on his party. "See the response we got on social media - more than 30,000 people have liked Tien's post, and I believe these people will also have a good impression of our party as well," said Chung as he checked the latest messages of support. "People think we are independent thinkers."

Most importantly, the incident has helped the Liberals to win over moderates - the targeted voters of their key competitor, the New People's Party led by Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. A tearful Ip apologised to the public yesterday for failing to back the plan.

While the blame game the Beijing-loyalists originally planned to use against the pro-democracy camp now seems a less feasible tactic, their rivals are also prepared to reverse their passive position. Some pan-democrats sense a golden chance to highlight the incompetence of Beijing-friendly lawmakers.

Labour sector lawmaker Poon Siu-ping said he was shocked by how many lawmakers failed to vote while he remained in the Legco chamber alongside the Liberals. He said he was confused and it was already too late when he realised he should have voted.

"The walkout has demonstrated how most of the Beijing-loyalists can be easily manipulated," said pan-democratic lawmaker Charles Mok, of the information technology sector. "It has sent a clear message to Hongkongers - do you want such representatives in the legislature?"

Like the Liberals, Labour Party stalwart Lee Cheuk-yan also believed the incident would prompt the city's moderates to rethink whether they should continue to side with the pro-Beijing lawmakers involved in the chaos.

"After all, Hongkongers still want to be with the intelligent side instead of the dumb side."

But Lee felt it was still too early to say if pan-democrats would benefit in the coming elections.

"Public opinion on the reform package has been evenly split," he said. "Those who back the plan might not necessarily become pan-democrats' supporters simply because the Beijing-loyalists failed to cast their votes."

Crossing his fingers, unionist Wong Kwok-kin hoped the negative impact caused by the walkout would be limited to the district council elections. "We still have time ahead of the Legislative Council race. I hope we have watered it down by then."

Tomorrow: the response in the pan-democratic camp

Ip Kwok-him

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong veteran was the first to stand up from his seat moments before the vote started and instruct other pro-establishment lawmakers to walk out. He was cited by others as the reason they followed suit and left the chamber during the vote, due to the influential status his party enjoys.

"The responsibility is not just on the DAB - but I myself need to bear the main responsibility."


Felix Chung Kwok-pan

The chairman of the Liberal Party, whose five lawmakers made up the critical presence in the chamber that ensured the quorum and nullified the plan to suspend the vote

"Our pro-establishment colleagues have 'twisted black and white' in saying that it was unfortunate for their eight allies - including the Liberals - to have stayed in the chamber and voted… I think those who suggested and initiated the walkout should apologise to the public."


Lau Wong-fat

The ailing, long-time kingpin of Heung Yee Kuk, the body representing the rights of indigenous villagers in the New Territories, showed up late on the day Legco voted on the government's 2017 election proposal. Dozens of his allies in the Beijing-loyalist camp walked out in an attempt to wait for his return so that the entire group could vote in unison to approve the proposal, only to realise there were still enough lawmakers remaining in the chamber to proceed to a vote in which they disastrously failed to take part in the end.

"I am physically unwell today and I have rushed here, but I was stuck in traffic on the way to Legco. I feel very sad now. I'm sorry."


Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung

The Executive Council member and vice-chairman of the Business and Professionals Alliance - which he joined after leaving the Liberal Party - is bearing the brunt of the blame after he kept asking other pro-establishment parties, except the Liberals, to buy time for his fellow party member, Lau Wong-fat.

"All of the [fellow pro-establishment lawmakers] put so much effort during the past 20 months just for this day, but I made you lose the chance to cast a vote and face criticism from within and outside. I really need to bear a big responsibility. [Thursday] was the saddest day for me throughout my political life ... I hope we will all stay together on the same boat."