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Carrie Lam

Why are pro-establishment lawmakers feeling slighted by Hong Kong’s leader?

After winning a pro-democracy stronghold in last month’s by-election, the city’s Beijing-friendly parties should be on a high. But in the first of a two-part series, Kimmy Chung looks at their growing concern that their opponents are getting too cosy with the city’s leader

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 11:03am

After raising eyebrows with a HK$30,000 (US$3,800) donation to the city’s largest opposition party at its annual fundraising dinner, there will be more tut-tutting when Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor welcomes five pro-democracy lawmakers to her official residence for dinner on Friday.

The thought of them sharing food and ideas in Government House will rankle with members of the pro-establishment camp.

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The chief executive’s attempts at improving ties with the city’s opposition are rubbing her traditional allies in the legislature up the wrong way – they feel disrespected and neglected.

Lam’s predecessor Leung Chun-ying may have been unpopular, especially with pan-democrats, but there is one thing the pro-establishment camp misses about him.

In the final year of his term, which ended in June last year, Leung met members of each major pro-establishment party every month, sources confirmed to the Post.

“Though Leung probably did that as part of his drive for another term in office, he showed respect to his allies,” a senior pro-establishment lawmaker said.

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Lam, however, has had no regular meetings with the camp, though various people visited her in groups for meals once or twice since she took office last July.

The camp’s discomfort with the situation sounds trivial, but it is a reflection of worries over how far Lam will go to mend ties with pro-democracy lawmakers, who number 26 in the 68-member Legislative Council.

The traditionally tense relationship between the administration and the pan-democrats worsened last year after four opposition lawmakers were unseated for improper oaths of office. Their disqualifications followed the ousting of two pro-independence legislators in 2016 for the same reason.

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She thinks she can heal the divide by pleasing them
A pro-establishment source

“Lam is too keen to please the pan-democrats to boost her popularity … she has gone too far,” the pro-establishment source said.

“She thinks she can heal the divide by pleasing them.”

But, the lawmaker added, Lam should not think that “by giving them money”, she could win the camp’s support for unpopular issues, such as the co-location bill now being discussed in Legco and the upcoming national anthem bill.

The former will see national laws enacted in part of the West Kowloon terminus for the city’s high-speed rail link to mainland China. The latter is a law the government is obliged to implement that criminalises insults or distortion to March of the Volunteers.

“It’s the pro-establishment camp that has to bear the burden. We are the ones being scolded by the public in the streets,” the lawmaker lamented.

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Lam’s other actions have also ruffled feathers. The same lawmaker charged that her election campaign pledge of an extra HK$5 billion on education spending was a bid to win pan-democrat Ip Kin-yuen’s support.

Ip, the education legislator, is one of the five guests Lam will host on Friday.

More recently, in an unusual move, Lam met lawmakers from both sides of the divide to speed up funding approvals for urgent items before the summer recess.

The Finance Committee – which scrutinises and approves government expenditure proposals – is a usual arena for pan-democrats to deploy filibustering tactics to delay projects they have reservations about.

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This time pan-democrats came up with a list of items they viewed as controversial and negotiated with the government not to table them. In return, they said they would pass less contentious ones. The government was prepared to accept part of the list – which another pro-establishment lawmaker said was a “bad precedent”.

He said his party may fight back by raising more questions to delay scrutiny of certain items.

“Why can’t we play around? We have to face the public as well,” he said.

The pro-establishment groups could press the government if they wished. However, in reality, the camp may simply have to accept the new state of affairs.

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Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, believed the camp would stick with the government on crucial matters, although there would be grumbles.

But Lau warned Lam may end up losing support from both camps, as there was no guarantee her efforts with the pan-democrats would bring results.

“The relationship does not hinge on Lam but more on the Beijing government. We cannot rule out that Beijing’s future initiatives will push the two to opposite sides.”