Hong Kong localism and independence

Inside the Legco walkout: how pro-establishment lawmakers used opponents’ own tactics to turn the tables

Councillors adopt tactic used by pan-democrats in using quorum call to force adjournment of Legislative Council proceedings

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 11:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 10:02am

While a large media pack gathered at the High Court on Tuesday night waiting for its ruling on the government’s unprecedented legal bid to disqualify two newly elected separatist lawmakers, pro-establishment politicians were also following the development closely through live television reports.

Soon after the court denied the administration an interim injunction to bar Youngspiration pair Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching from retaking their oaths, a message popped up in the camp’s Whatsapp message group. “Perhaps we should reconsider Paul Tse Wai-chun’s suggestion to stage a walkout tomorrow,” the text read.

Watch: The Legco walkout drama

Tse had earlier called on his allies to force an adjournment of Wednesday’s Legislative Council meeting and second swearing-in ceremony for those whose oaths were invalidated, unless the duo apologised for their “inappropriate and offensive” behaviour.

They had offended many by referring to China as “Chee-na”, which sounded like the derogatory Shina used by Japan during the second world war.

A number of them from various pro-establishment parties immediately echoed the call. At around 1am, the Beijing-friendly bloc finally decided to call an urgent meeting at 9am the next day to work on their action.

But that was not an easy decision as adopting Tse’s plan would imply a complete U-turn.

Just two days ago, four pro-Beijing lawyers-turned-lawmakers – including Holden Chow Ho-ding of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and Priscilla Leung Mei-fun of the Business and Professionals Alliance – had slammed Tse’s idea at a joint press conference, saying a forced adjournment would be a huge blow to Legco.

The pro-establishment camp has already spent months recovering from a bungled, if not farcical walkout last year, when they failed to buy time to wait for a senior colleague and left only eight allies to vote for Hong Kong’s Beijing-decreed electoral reform.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee on Wednesday dismissed accusations that they were buying time in collaboration with the government, although a few members admitted the administration’s unprecedented legal challenge – led by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying – had indeed given them a strong boost in taking this step.

“Some of us did indeed have reservations about staging a walkout,” said a pro-establishment lawmaker who asked not to be named, referring to Ip who was quoted as arguing such a move would cost them public support

“But why couldn’t we do something when even the government has made such a move? We do not want to appear feebler than the administration.”

The strong public outcry against the localists’ antics was also part of the reasons which pushed the pro-establishment camp, whose voter base cares about patriotism, to force the adjournment of the meeting by calling for a quorum – a tactic it had regularly condemned the pan-democrats for using during the last Legco term.

Indeed, public sentiment has grown against the Youngspiration pair since last Wednesday.

Various pro-establishment and Beijing-friendly organisations have run more than a dozen adverts in local newspapers, urging the duo to apologise or even resign. One of the statements was issued by more than 200 historians and educators, including former chief curator of the Hong Kong History Museum Joseph Ting Sun-pao.

One lesson the camp has learned this time is to make sure the four Liberal Party lawmakers are on board before the final showdown.

The pro-business Liberals, who were strong advocates of the “ABC” or “Anyone but CY” drive, did not join the walkout last year, but this time they played ball.

Another pro-establishment lawmaker, who agreed the move would be “a show of force” to the localists, also pointed out the “low cost” of their action this time.

“Take a look at the agenda – all the items on the list are something we are opposed to,” he said, referring to pan-democrats’ bid to set up a select committee to investigate the HK$50 million Leung Chun-ying received from Australian engineering firm UGL.

“There are also no bills which require urgent approval in our very first year of the term – why should we bother?”

There could still be a price to pay, though. At the least, the image of the city’s legislature took a drubbing as it descended into chaos and virtual farce yesterday.

Rival camps pointed fingers and hurled objects at each other in front of the media cameras, putting what many have condemned as “kindergarten behaviour” on full public display, both for the local and international audiences.

After the walkout, as pro-establishment lawmakers put on a united front for the media, explaining the rationale behind their action, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats threw luncheon meat at them in protest.

The canned food has become a symbol against filibusters after former conservative lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing measured the cost of marathon debates in terms of luncheon meat that could have been bought instead.