Legislative Council elections 2016

‘I will not look back’: Hong Kong’s ‘Iron Lady’ Emily Lau vows to remain active in civil society as she departs from Legco

Journalist-turned-lawmaker and city’s first directly elected female legislator has never stopped asking tough questions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2016, 12:45pm

A typical day for Emily Lau Wai-hing begins at 6am, when she gets up to monitor newscasts and sometimes take part in phone-in shows – frequently on RTHK Radio 3, as she is among the handful of lawmakers who are happy to take English questions from the press.

Arriving at the legislature at about 8am, the Democratic Party’s first chairwoman commences a hectic day of marathon meetings and appointments. Lunches and dinners with friends are rare because she usually spends mealtimes at working parties.

The few hours before bed around midnight are when Lau can enjoy a bit of the luxury of catching up with international news and doing some reading.

Hong Kong Democratic Party leader Emily Lau decides not to seek re-election in 2016

“During all those years, I did not have any other jobs,” she said at her farewell press conference on Friday.

“My bosses are the Hong Kong people. I have no conflict of interests or conflict of roles. I devoted all my time to serving the Hong Kong people.”

To many, the departure of the “Iron Lady” is a significant moment – Lau was the city’s first directly elected woman legislator, someone fearless in unleashing tough questions and a favourite of the international media. In 1984, the young journalist from the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review gained fame after questioning then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher for “delivering over five million people into the hands of a communist dictatorship”.

The journalist-turned-lawmaker has since continued to direct tough questions and criticism against the central and local authorities, on issues such as the snail’s pace of democratic progress in the city and the alleged interference in the coalition among parties across the spectrum – something she had pushed for in the legislature in order to “get things done”.

“I am very willing to work with different parties as consensus could be forged only with communication and compromises,” she said. “But in 2004, the central government’s liaison office said such a coalition would undermine the executive-led government system.”

Tough reporter who became city’s own Iron Lady

Over the years, Lau has also been one of the very few lawmakers who would fly all the way to Geneva to attend the regular United Nations hearings on the city’s human rights situation. She did so for more than two decades – although those efforts seldom made it to the press.

“No media has sent any reporters to cover such meetings in the past decade. Some lawmakers are not interested in going as they feel like their effort will not be known ... which is understandable,” she told the Post.

“But I am very stubborn. I will go regardless of that.”

Lau called on the media to adopt a wider perspective and do more coverage on such important international meetings.

“If [Chief Executive] Leung Chun-ying’s earlier remark regarding the city’s possible withdrawal from the United Nations’ torture convention is regarded as news, how could such hearings not be?”

Lau, now 64, said she did not have much to miss as she walked out of the legislature she entered when she was 39.

“I am the kind of person who will not look back once I decide to do something,” said Lau, who vowed to remain active in civil society and intends to work on her memoir.

Proudest moment:

Spearheaded an eight-party coalition in 2001 which successfully forced the government to adopt its suggestions, such as a waiver of property rates

Biggest regret:

Universal suffrage is yet to be attained in Hong Kong