24 October 2016
Will Jasper Tsang do the honorable thing? Photo: AFP
Will Jasper Tsang do the honorable thing? Photo: AFP

How Jasper Tsang can deal with WhatsApp fallout like a statesman

Denying anything that’s already public knowledge is tough enough in the best of times.

Putting it in context might help, if it does not complicate the problem.

No doubt Jasper Tsang wrestled with this dilemma over his involvement in a damning WhatsApp conversation with pro-establishment lawmakers preceding last week’s chaotic vote on the election reform bill.

But given that he addressed the issue just hours after Oriental Daily published a transcript of the discussion showed he was ready to face the fallout – and be done with it.

Tsang apologized to his colleagues from both sides of the aisle but insisted he did not break any rules or compromise his impartiality as presiding officer of the Legislative Council.

Maybe he didn’t.

The problem is that he has created the impression that he was involved in a plot by a group of his political allies to upend the vote by walking out of the chamber to deny the meeting a quorum.

There is no evidence he was having a conversation with the legislators on the opposing side as well, which might have shown he was merely trying to keep the proceedings on track.

Now, there’s a sense he has called into question the appearance of neutrality of the Legco presidency and harmed his own standing to conduct impartial deliberations.

To be fair, Tsang has other responsibilities that don’t involve a bang of the Legco president’s gavel.

Security is one.

He took pains to explain that his role in the online chat was “limited to ensuring smooth proceedings and a timely finish” for security reasons.

He said recent security-related incidents mostly happened at night, which is why the speeches and the voting had to be speeded up.

A large crowd of competing groups that had gathered outside Legco had become a cause for concern, he said.

Those reasons would be props in a play, but in Tsang’s script, these are talking points worth mentioning if only for their uncertain mitigating value.

Faced with the inevitable question, Tsang stopped short of saying if he will resign the Legco presidency.

He did say he knew that a no-confidence motion was going to be filed and that he will listen to what his peers have to say.

If the motion is taken up and the chamber votes along partisan lines as expected, it won’t have the majority required to pass it.

All Tsang’s pro-government allies, who control the chamber (his own party is the biggest bloc), need do is sit on their hands.

That would reduce one of the most important decisions Legco can take to a matter of political expediency and accommodation.

But I believe Jasper Tsang is an honorable man, which is why I think he should do the honorable thing.

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EJ Insight contributor

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