18 October 2019
The pro-establishment camp has one job: to oppose the opposition and so maintain the status quo. Photo: Reuters
The pro-establishment camp has one job: to oppose the opposition and so maintain the status quo. Photo: Reuters

What is the use of the pro-establishment camp?

The blunder that occurred just seconds before the electoral reform package was put to the vote on June 18 was enough to make the pro-establishment legislators the laughing stock of all of Hong Kong for at least the next 10 years.

Now that the damage has been done, there is probably nothing they can do to repair it.

On the other hand, we don’t need to take the whole thing too seriously, as in the current political environment, the real implications of that bungled walkout for the pro-establishment camp are limited. 

Its supporters are unlikely to switch to another camp just because of the lawmakers’ poor performance on that fateful day.

The pro-establishment camp is characterized by its mediocrity.

Simply put, its lawmakers’ failure or success is determined not by their day-to-day performance in the Legislative Council but by how well they are able to fulfill their function, which is to tie down the pan-democrats and so facilitate the effective governance of the city.

As a matter of fact, the pro-establishment camp is just one of the components that make up our political system designed by Beijing, and so all its members need do is fulfill the role assigned to them and do exactly as Beijing says and nothing more.

The pro-establishment camp is no ruling party, nor would Beijing want it to become a formidable political force that would constantly interfere in the executive branch or even dominate the running of Hong Kong.

All Beijing expects it to do is to rally to the government’s defense when the need arises and to give the government the votes it needs to pass its bills — nothing else.

However, given the lame-duck status of Leung Chun-ying’s administration, the importance of the pro-establishment camp has grown significantly over the past few years.

It has become increasingly instrumental in securing the effective governance of Hong Kong.

As the only reliable ally of Leung’s administration in the legislature, the pro-establishment camp is facing a rather delicate situation: it has to avoid appearing politically overambitious or underambitious.

In other words, it has to be more proactive in assisting the administration in governing Hong Kong more effectively, but at the same time it has to stick to its supporting role and avoid taking center stage too often, so as not to steal the show.

Hong Kong is such a strange city. We have a so-called pro-establishment camp but no conservatives in the political sense.

The reason for this strange phenomenon is probably the fact that the pro-establishment camp doesn’t have any sound propositions on politics, the economy and other social issues, which poses a hurdle in its path to become a truly convincing and influential political force.

As a result, our pro-establishment camp is more like a pro-status-quo camp, or an “anti-opposition” force, rather than a truly independent political group.

Its public image has been so vague that the majority of the public often doesn’t even sense its presence as long as the pan-democrats haven’t messed things up.

The pro-establishment camp’s lack of independent will and failure to develop its independent role are probably the biggest obstacle to its becoming a credible political force in the public eye.

Meanwhile, the pro-establishment camp must rely on clear instructions from Beijing to coordinate its actions and do exactly what it is expected to.

However, when the chain of command is disrupted or when there are conflicting orders from different power sources in Beijing, members of the pro-establishment camp are likely to go back to basics and act in their own interests.

Having said that, it remains questionable whether they will continue to support Leung. They may have already started looking for someone to replace him in the next election for chief executive.

Strictly speaking, the pro-establishment camp is hardly the “king maker” and therefore unlikely to be too proactive in expressing any preference for any particular chief executive hopeful, at least not at this stage.

However, it is obvious that many of its members are worried about betting on the wrong horse in the next race.

And whenever new hopefuls come to light, the pro-establishment camp often reacts strongly.

This is understandable, because at the end of the day, it is the chief executive himself, not the policies he is pitching, that the pro-establishment camp pledges allegiance to.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 14.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Chairperson of SynergyNet; Chair Professor of Hong Kong Studies, Department of Asian and Policy Studies, The Hong Kong Institute of Education