17 November 2019
Helena Wong gave the pan-democrats fresh momentum by exposing the lead-in-water scandal. Photo: HKEJ
Helena Wong gave the pan-democrats fresh momentum by exposing the lead-in-water scandal. Photo: HKEJ

Water crisis will cost pro-govt camp dearly in coming elections

During the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference meetings in March this year, Zhang Dejiang, the NPC’s chairman and leader of the central liaison task force on Hong Kong and Macau affairs, ordered the Hong Kong government and the pro-establishment camp to complete two “hard political missions”: passing the 2017 political reform package in the Legislative Council and achieving complete victory in the upcoming district council and Legco elections.

As we all know, the first mission ended in a complete disaster, as the bungled walkout staged by the pro-establishment camp led to the defeat of the government’s reform proposal by a clear majority in Legco.

Not only did the pro-government lawmakers make themselves an international laughing stock, but Beijing was also deeply embarrassed, and the Leung Chun-ying regime and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong were both blamed for the blunder.

Therefore, there is basically zero margin for error in the second “hard mission”, or else it is almost certain that Leung will be ordered to step down, let alone be allowed to seek re-election.

Determined not to take any risk this time, Leung quickly fired Tsang Tak-sing, the secretary for home affairs, who allegedly lost favour with his boss because he was against the idea of setting up the brainwashing Hong Kong Army Cadets Association and opposed to giving the Tsim Sha Tsui harborfront enhancement program to New World Development rather than contracting it out through open tender.

Tsang was then replaced by the cunning and election-hardened Lau Kong-wah, who was given the job so that he can facilitate the election campaign of the pro-establishment camp by distributing district resources in their favour.

Leung’s plot would have worked if it had not been for the recent lead contamination scandal that has taken the city by storm and affected tens of thousands of households in several public housing estates.

First revealed by legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan of the Democratic Party in July, the crisis has quickly escalated and become the centre of public attention, prompting the Leung administration, which had tried to deny its way out of the scandal at the beginning, to quickly take remedial actions, such as expanding the water testing program to cover all public housing estates across Hong Kong, and holding an independent inquiry into the cause of the contamination.

The odds are now once again in favor of the pan-democrats.

Since lead contamination in the water supply is a life and death issue for our fellow citizens, the pro-establishment camp, which was trying to downplay the crisis at the beginning in collaboration with Leung’s government, has fallen out of public favor and lost its credibility completely.

Knowing that its tactic of buying votes by offering perks to constituents — which has served it so well in the past — no longer works, the pro-establishment camp immediately adjusted its strategy and rushed to do water tests for households in public housing estates.

It even turned against the government to redeem itself by accusing the authorities of responding to the contamination crisis too slowly.

Legislators like Ann Chiang Lai-wan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who once slammed Wong for arousing public panic by releasing the test results, even had the nerve to claim that they were actually on the same side on this issue.

However, as the old saying goes, “old habits die hard”, and the pro-establishment lawmakers once again showed their true colours when they unanimously voted against invoking Legco’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance to hold an inquiry into the cause of the contamination.

It is crystal clear that the pro-establishment camp, like always, is only paying lip service to the public interest.

Whenever Beijing gives it orders, it will just quickly fall into line.

While the public has totally lost its faith in the pro-establishment camp, it appears the Democratic Party has fully recovered its popularity by uncovering the contamination scandal five years after it disgraced itself by supporting the political reform proposal put forward by then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

Things are getting worse for the pro-establishment camp.

First it has lost the moral high ground and was forced to play defense after the defeat of the political reform package in Legco owing to its members’ own stupidity, and now it is facing an even bigger credibility crisis amid the lead contamination scandal, which has shown no sign of coming to an end.

The pan-democrats should seize this golden opportunity with both hands to rally public support and make the pro-establishment camp pay in the upcoming elections.

However, despite their current position of strength, the pan-democrats cannot afford to be complacent, nor can they afford to split again.

Even though they are back in favour with the public at the moment, their continued infighting, for which they are notorious, is likely to vaporize whatever popularity they have right now.

If they don’t stick together and coordinate themselves but instead fight one another like they did in the last elections, the pro-establishment camp will definitely milk it for all it is worth, and the result will be a foregone conclusion.

In short, the only enemy of the pan-democrats in the upcoming elections is the pro-establishment camp, and they should stick to livelihood issues, because at this stage all political issues are meaningless and are nothing more than a political liability.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 28.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal