21 September 2019
Beijing should make a sober assessment of what really happened during the Legco vote on the election bill. Photo: HKEJ
Beijing should make a sober assessment of what really happened during the Legco vote on the election bill. Photo: HKEJ

Legco walkout: Lessons from the video recording

With the veto of the 2017 election package at the Legislative Council last month, Hong Kong can set aside the long-running rift in society, at least for now.

The bungled walkout by members of the pro-establishment bloc will continue to be talked about, although some local media are trying to play it down (through self-censorship or whimsical headlines like “out-of-chamber voting for the bill”), and despite the “we are sorry” ads that appeared in numerous local newspapers shortly after the fiasco (perhaps they should also buy space for such statements in overseas and mainland newspapers) and the public weeping and display of remorse by some embattled lawmakers.

I have no intention of mocking these people but I hope Beijing can make a sober assessment of what happened and rectify its policies toward the special administrative region. If it can do so, then the veto and the silly blunder will turn out to be a chance for us to start anew.

There are still some unanswered questions:

What really happened? Who played the leading role in the walkout?

Why did they have to wait for Lau Wong-fat, former chairman of Heung Yee Kuk and honorary chairman of the pro-Beijing Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong?

What lessons can be learned from this fiasco?

The account of those involved may not be reliable, as they tend to gloss over their own faults and pass the blame to others.

Thus, a video recording of the Legco session is without doubt more authoritative. Now I will try to reconstruct the walkout and figure out what these people thought based on the six-minute video clip available on YouTube and the Legco’s online webcast archive.

1. Shortly after Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing declared the start of voting, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, vice chairman of the Business and Professionals Alliance, was seen talking to Tam Yiu-chung and Ip Kwok-him, both senior members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Lam also checked his cellphone a number of times.

My inference is that Lam may have been told that Lau was still on his way to Legco and thus he wanted to discuss with his colleagues what to do.

2. In the next four minutes, Tam was seen whispering to Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, Executive Council member and chairperson of the New People’s Party, and Chan Yuen-han, who represents the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions. Meanwhile, Lam also approached other members of the pro-government camp.

3. Lam and Ip Kwok-him talked for a few seconds after Lam’s request for a suspension was rejected by Tsang less than one minute before the voting.

4. Then Ip Kwok-him was seen urging his peers to follow him out of the chamber. Subsequently, quite a lot of Beijing-friendly lawmakers stood up and left.

5. I also noticed that Paul Tse Wai-chun talked to Chung Kwok-pan, chairman of the Liberal Party, before he left but all of the five members of the party, including James Tien Pei-chun, remained seated.

6. Even Tsang himself appeared confused as the walkout suddenly took place, and asked his assistant if there were enough people left in the chamber. Thirty seconds later, Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a member of the pro-democracy Civic Party, pressed Tsang to start the voting. Having been told that those remained still constituted a quorum, Tsang agreed to start and read out the results.

My inference: Lam obviously wanted to buy time yet he didn’t inform Tien and other Liberal Party members of the walkout. On the other hand, Tien and his teammates must also be aware that other government loyalists wanted to suspend voting and deny a quorum.

The fiasco shows that key figures in the pro-government bloc were incapable of leading and coordinating their actions to ensure that the different individuals and parties in their camp all move in unison.

As to why they must wait for the tardy Lau, I reckon it was because Lam was worried that without Lau’s vote, he would have a hard time explaining to Beijing, which had made it clear that each and every pro-establishment lawmaker — not one less — must cast a yes vote to demonstrate to all, including the international community, that its well-thought-out political reform package was killed by just a minority of legislators and that the pan-democrats were acting “against the popular will”.

The walkout was a very risky decision as these people should have known that Liberal Party members wouldn’t allow themselves to be maneuvered. Other groups like DAB and the New People’s Party still joined the move probably because they all feared that Beijing might flare up over Lau’s absence during the voting.

Had it not been for the Liberal Party members and other legislators who remained in the chamber, Lam could have succeeded in delaying the process and would have been applauded by Beijing for his ingenuity at such a crucial juncture.

From this case, we can tell that what is foremost in the minds of these Beijing loyalists is to avoid making their mainland masters unhappy, so much so that they failed to make the proper judgment during critical moments.

Why are these people — professionals and elites with a wealth of experience in various fields — so afraid of Beijing? How come Regina Ip, who once served as security minister, became so indecisive as to act like a naive junior member of the chamber? And, did anyone remember Starry Lee Wai-king, the new DAB chairwoman who once was seen as a rising star? Did anyone think of asking her opinion beforehand?

There are lots of talented people in Hong Kong who do not talk about their love for China all the time.

The question for Beijing is this: Has it ever thought that, apart from allegiance, the capability to get things done is an equally important standard when handpicking people to fill key posts in the SAR government and Legco?

When we criticize radical pan-democrats, have we noticed that some people in the pro-Beijing bloc cannot even speak proper Chinese or make a proper formal speech?

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 24.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government