27 October 2016
Pro-Beijing legislators talk to the press following the defeat of the political reform bill on Thursday. Photo: HKEJ
Pro-Beijing legislators talk to the press following the defeat of the political reform bill on Thursday. Photo: HKEJ

Defeat to trigger major realignment of pro-Beijing forces in HK

Hong Kong people who have been fighting for genuine universal suffrage should not be lulled into complacency by Thursday’s historic trashing of the Beijing-designed political reform package.

The road to democracy is long and steep and fraught with danger.

If there is anything that the asinine walkout by pro-establishment legislators proved to their Beijing masters, it is that they could not be trusted. 

Given a choice, many of these so-called Beijing loyalists will put their own interests ahead of their allegiance to the central government.  

But the Communist Party rulers certainly know this, and the humiliation they suffered on Thursday will prompt them to reconsolidate the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong.

The Liberal Party could once again win Beijing’s trust after all its members in the Legislative Council voted for the government proposal, while other Beijing-backed parties could face some sort of sanction.

The unexpected outcome of the vote, in which the opposition won overwhelmingly because of the other side’s shocking incompetence, could trigger a new round of realignment in the pro-Beijing camp, as well as the party leadership in charge of Hong Kong affairs.

Pro-Beijing political parties including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) could face escalating pressure from supporters who had spent a lot of effort and resources to promote the political reform package.

The walkout made a mockery out of all those exertions, and their frustration and feeling of betrayal could find their expression in the results of the coming District Council and Legco elections.

Some political observers note that the DAB headquarters had been receiving endless calls from infuriated backers who could not understand the action taken by the party’s representatives in the legislature.

What could be the possible changes in the pro-Beijing political alliance in Hong Kong?

One thing’s for sure: Beijing will conduct a reassessment of the loyalties, competence and interests of the political parties and groups that make up the alliance, and base its future actions on the results of such a review.

For one thing, Beijing will see need to separate the traditional leftists from the business leaders.

The traditional leftists, including the DAB and the HKFTU, may be asked to share power with Beijing loyalists like the Alliance for Peace and Democracy led by Robert Chow Yung. 

Chow’s group has proven its loyalty in past confrontations with the pro-democracy camp. For example, it launched mass demonstrations and signature campaigns against last year’s Occupy movement and in promoting the government’s political reform package.

From Beijing’s viewpoint, Chow is much more effective and laudable than some of the DAB and FTU leaders, and therefore deserves more appreciation and trust in the form of being given more responsibilities.

New People’s Party, founded by former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, is another group that Beijing will have to re-evaluate.

Ip’s decision to join the walkout on Thursday showed that she and her party are not capable of independent thinking, allowing themselves to be influenced by fellow pro-Beijing lawmakers and later regretting their decision.

Positioned as a party for the middle class, Ip’s group could face a huge backlash from supporters, who, being members of the middle class, expect their representatives to be smart and independent politicians who can think for themselves, rather than be blind followers of Beijing.

It is highly possible that many of the New People’s Party could switch their support to the Liberal Party, which also targets the middle class.

But Beijing is likely to have a huge headache in figuring out how to deal with Hong Kong’s business sector.

The entire fiasco on Thursday was triggered by a miscalculation by Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, who represents the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce in the Legco, and is also a convenor of Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong.

His abysmal lack of political skill, as shown by his decision to walk out of the Legco chamber together with other pro-establishment colleagues, demonstrates his inability to execute Beijing’s general directive properly.

A major dilemma for Beijing is that while the business sector is loyal to the central government, its allegiance cannot be totally relied upon as its primary concern is its own interests.

As a result of Thursday’s walkout, the pro-Beijing politicians have miserably failed in their commitment to support the electoral reform package.

The pan-democrats, who have displayed their unity in vetoing the proposal, should take advantage of this situation.

They should pursue their campaign for genuine universal suffrage, and convince those in the so-called silent majority to support the pro-democracy fight.

They should enhance their solidarity to increase the number of their seats in the District Council election in November, and come up with a solid strategy for the Legco election next year to maintain the crucial one-third of the seats.

In the long term, they must think out of the box to achieve substantial progress in the fight for Hong Kong democracy.

They may need to work with other political parties, such as the Liberal Party, to establish the most appropriate roadmap to achieve the goal.

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EJ Insight writer

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