17 November 2019
Pro-democracy lawmakers are blocked by security guards as they try to stop the process of electing a council chairman. Photos: HKEJ, Reuters
Pro-democracy lawmakers are blocked by security guards as they try to stop the process of electing a council chairman. Photos: HKEJ, Reuters

Golden opportunities in Legco but will they be seized?

Why was there a scintilla of surprise about the furor that greeted the opening of the new Legislative Council on Wednesday?

How could it be otherwise in a situation where the September election delivered a decisive majority of the popular vote to anti-government candidates yet under Hong Kong’s rigged system, the pro-government camp was given almost 60 per cent of the council seats.

Just in case this slap in the face for the majority of voters was not considered to be sufficiently bruising, the folks who pull the strings down at the Liaison Office in Western decreed that pro-government legislators had to install a president of the council from one of the rotten boroughs, who has never had to face an election and may even have been ineligible because of the way he clung onto his British citizenship.

The orders from Western were also clear in instructing their foot soldiers to ensure that the pro-government camp held all the chairmanships of the legislature’s key committees and told to do so in the name of enabling the government to do its job.

To add exquisite insult to injury, the pro-government propaganda machinery, avidly assisted by the usual suspects in Legco, started talking tough about action that could be brought against members of the opposition camp who deviated from the rules.

They then had the chutzpah to suggest that what the new Legco required was a greater degree of cooperation.

Readers may know that the classic definition of the fine Yiddish term chutzpah is rendered by the story of the child who murders his parents and then asks the judge for leniency on the grounds that he is an orphan.

Fortunately, no one has been murdered in Legco but the temperature is very high and the prospects for more turbulence are more or less guaranteed.

There are ways of reducing the temperature but it is clear that the government and its masters have not the slightest intention of making any moves to cool things down.

On the contrary, the current situation pleases them; it especially pleases the masters in Beijing who are keen to demonstrate that even a small degree of democracy in Hong Kong is likely to produce chaos.

Secondly, the deeply unpopular CY Leung administration uses the turmoil in Legco as a means of deflecting attention from its miserable record in government.

It even has the cheek to use this excuse as an explanation for why so little was achieved during the administration’s term of office.

What is rarely mentioned is the fact that 83 of the 89 bills presented to Legco by the government were passed into law. Instead of acknowledging this, the government has been whining about legislative paralysis.

While the government is busy developing a narrative that seeks to portray opposition legislators as crazed obstructionists, some members of the opposition camp have given succor to this portrayal.

The opposition needs to be a hell lot smarter in the new Legco if it is to get anywhere.

A good start would be made by a little less grandstanding on behalf of some new democrat members who seem intent on distancing themselves from the traditional pro-democracy camp.

Of course, they cannot agree on everything but they are facing a formidable enemy and should focus on what unites rather than what divides them.

Secondly, instead of a reflex response to government stupidity and wrongdoing, the opposition needs to concentrate on effective campaigning.

The word campaigning is used advisedly because Legco members are largely powerless; their main influence lies in the platform provided by the legislature.

If this platform is endlessly used for meaningless gestures, such as defying the rules of swearing the Legco oath, the platform will be eroded.

It is not as though there are not enough real targets to challenge a vulnerable government.

Incoming legislator Eddie Chu has chosen one of the best — the collusion between the government and shady but powerful forces in the New Territories, conspiring to despoil the countryside and short change the rural population.

The genius of this is that it focuses both on livelihood issues while exposing the fundamental injustice of the current power structure.

A very natural concomitant of this is a wider housing campaign that exposes the power of the property cartels and the government’s lack of determination to provide decent housing for the bulk of the population.

Meanwhile, in a situation where the chief executive cannot even bring himself to support the SAR’s football team because he fears angering Beijing, the opposition has plenty of scope for underlining its commitment to Hong Kong and the Hong Kong way of life.

In fact, the anti-government camp is spoilt for choice in its search for campaign issues while the pro-government camp is hobbled by the need to back CY Leung and follow orders that its more intelligent members know make no sense.

The opposition should therefore resist the temptation to substitute displays of anger for substantive action. It would be helpful if they ceased to be the people who never miss a chance to miss a chance.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author