25 October 2016
Leung Kwok-hung's credibility has suffered from his admission that he made up an amount he alleged he was offered to vote for the government's electoral reform package. Photo: HKEJ
Leung Kwok-hung's credibility has suffered from his admission that he made up an amount he alleged he was offered to vote for the government's electoral reform package. Photo: HKEJ

Is black money an issue in the debate on electoral reform?

It’s now the endgame in the battle for the vote on the government’s proposal for the 2017 election for chief executive.

Both sides will continue to leverage “public opinion” to urge the other side to follow the majority’s wishes.

However, pan-democrats, despite the latest public opinion poll showing more people are with them in opposing the government’s package, are failing to use concrete legal and political arguments to win further public support.

Instead, some lawmakers publicly said, without presenting concrete evidence, that middlemen had offered them financial incentives to vote in favour of the reform package.

The latest example is League of Social Democrats lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who said last week he was offered HK$100 million to support the government’s proposal.

Leung then said Sunday the amount was only an example he had used to gain the attention of the media so that it would report the issue and, in fact, his source did not mention a figure during their conversation.

Long Hair denied he had told a lie, saying he had done nothing wrong by fabricating the figure.

He said the middleman had, in fact said that the amount of the bribe would be twice what Leung would need to spend for the rest of his life. 

Last week, People Power legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip said he had learned from other lawmakers that middlemen had offered pan-democrats HK$100 million each to vote Wednesday in favor of the government’s proposal.

No evidence was given for the allegations about such deals, which all seemed to point to the Beijing authorities or their affiliates.

It is difficult to understand why the pan-democrats picked this moment to reveal such rumors to the public.

And it is ridiculous for Leung to admit fabricating the amount of HK$100 million allegedly offered for his vote.

That shouldn’t be something a veteran politician who has been in the front line for decades fighting for democracy for the city should do, especially now that public opinion polls show that the number of people who reject the reform package are beginning to surpass that of its supporters.

The pan-democrats don’t need such rumors of bribery to cement the support for their rejection of the proposal.

While Leung has earned much respect from the public for his aggressive battle for a transparent democratic framework for Hong Kong, his performance on the “HK$100 million” bribery rumors will disappoint many of his supporters, as well as the silent majority who would like to see the reform package voted down in the legislature.

The public could well begin to doubt the integrity of Leung and Chan, who have labeled themselves progressive democrats as compared with other pan-democrats.

And some people might wonder why the lawmakers did not make formal complaints to the Independent Commission Against Corruption about those alleged attempts at buying their votes?

This mistake by high-profile pan-democrats cheered up the pro-Beijing camp over the weekend.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the pro-Beijing politicians and media were quite excited over the news of Long Hair’s admission he fabricated the HK$100 million figure.

The chief executive lashed out at him for making up the number, saying he may have lied about other things as well and that he needs to come clean immediately.

But do the rumors of black money matter to the debate over electoral reform at this stage?

The allegations indicate, firstly, that Beijing is desperately securing the approval of the reform package and is relying on middlemen to offer incentives to lawmakers to change their mind.

Such transactions would be conducted under the table, with the promise of future benefits rather than a huge lump sum up front, which would be too obvious and would surely trigger an investigation by the ICAC.

The second thing the rumors show is that some pan-democrats still lack the confidence that they will all vote in the legislature against the reform package.

If they trust one another, why would Chan and Long Hair need to make such allegations, in an attempt to force their fellow pan-democrats not to change their minds when it comes to the crunch?

Any pan-democratic lawmakers who are absent from the vote or abstain from it will surely bear the stain of the rumors in the future.

Will the bribery rumors turn out to be the last straw on the camel’s back as regards electoral reform?

Hongkongers should keep their eyes on the Legislative Council chamber Wednesday.

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EJ Insight writer

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