19 October 2018
Supporters of the disqualified lawmakers stage a protest at the Civic Square following the release of the court ruling last Friday. Photo: AFP
Supporters of the disqualified lawmakers stage a protest at the Civic Square following the release of the court ruling last Friday. Photo: AFP

Lam, opposition must work together to resolve political deadlock

The crackdown on the democratic camp is well underway, despite the new administration’s pledge to heal the divisions in society.

So far six pan-democrat lawmakers have lost their seats in the Legislative Council as a result of the court rulings on their behavior when they took their oaths of office last October, and two more could be added to the list.

The rulings were based on a National People’s Congress interpretation of the Basic Law, showing that even a Hong Kong court of law, despite the city’s much-vaunted autonomy and judicial independence, is under Beijing’s authority. 

The pan-democrats must stand firm against the court rulings and push the new administration to settle the political crisis.

The disqualification lawsuits were initiated by the former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who also proactively sought Beijing’s intervention, prompting the NPC to come out with an interpretation of the Basic Law as it pertained to their cases.

Carrie Lam, the new chief executive, wants the people to know that she is different from her predecessor, and is eager to reach out to the pan-democrats to bridge the social and political divide.

But she insists that the court rulings must be respected.

The issue may spill over to Legco’s deliberation of her request for HK$3.6 billion funding for education for the new school year.

However, the democrats have decided to focus discussions on the education funding item alone. They are also under pressure from the education sector, a major source of support, to give the green light to Lam’s initiative in a bid to hire more teachers for local schools.

But the democrats have no clear stand on the seven other spending requests before the Finance Committee. Democratic Party lawmaker James To warned that “all the things will become abnormal” after the court issued a ruling disqualifying four pan-democrat lawmakers last week.

The opposition appears to be offering an olive branch to Lam and leaving room for both sides to discuss their future cooperation in the legislature.

But the democrats’ unclear stance on seven other budgetary items is clearly meant to show their anger over the disqualification issue.

While Lam has said she has no plans to bring more lawmakers to court for their oath-taking behavior, a pro-establishment media outfit said on Tuesday that at least ten more lawmakers who had been sued earlier could be disqualified based on the court judgement last Friday.

That means the pan-democratic camp could lose up to 16 seats in the legislature. Given that the lawsuits against the eight lawmakers were filed by private individuals, the government can say that it cannot do anything but await the court judgement.

But Lam can still do something to show her sincerity to the opposition, and that is by upholding the fairness and transparency of the potential by-elections resulting from the vacant Legco seats, and by not putting forward controversial bills for Legco approval before the by-elections, which would be interpreted as taking advantage of the loss of opposition seats in the legislature.

Speaking to reporters before the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, the chief executive promised she would not relaunch political reform or introduce the controversial Article 23 (national security) legislation before by-elections take place to fill the seats of the disqualified pro-democracy lawmakers.

Lam also said it has not been decided yet whether one or two rounds of by-elections will be held in view of the ongoing legal proceedings. She also stressed that it was Legco’s decision to urge the six lawmakers to return the amounts corresponding to the salaries and operating expenses they had received before their disqualification.

Lam is obviously employing the friendly approach in dealing with the opposition. She wants the pan-democrats to know that she is acting in good faith, noting that she could be labeled CY 2.0 if she tried to pass the controversial bills during this period.

Her remarks on the by-election arrangement also indicated the government could remain neutral until the end of all legal proceedings related to the disqualification cases. Meanwhile, pro-Beijing lawmakers have urged the government to hold all the by-elections in one go to save money.

The fact is, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong made the recommendation as an election strategy. In some districts with more than one seat vacant, the pro-Beijing camp could get most of the seats by using the proportional representation mechanism, rather than single-seat, single-vote system, as the latter would favor the opposition candidates.

Both Lam and the democrats need to work cautiously to resolve the political crisis initiated by the former administration.

The people can see if the new government will handle this crisis by upholding the core values of fairness, justice and transparency. The democrats, on the other hand, should follow the guidelines when taking their oaths of office to show their sincerity and maintain their strength in Legco.

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EJ Insight writer

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