Date
19 November 2018
Lau Siu-lai was barred from running in the Nov. 25 Legislative Council by-election in Kowloon West. Could this be a part of the government’s plan to buy itself more time on the issue of enacting Article 23? Photo: HKEJ
Lau Siu-lai was barred from running in the Nov. 25 Legislative Council by-election in Kowloon West. Could this be a part of the government’s plan to buy itself more time on the issue of enacting Article 23? Photo: HKEJ

There could be a silver lining to Lau Siu-lai’s disqualification

As expected, ousted pro-democracy lawmaker Lau Siu-lai was barred from running in the upcoming Legislative Council by-election in Kowloon West with the returning officer citing again her political stance.

Lau’s disqualification came as no surprise to the pro-democracy camp, or else it wouldn’t have designated former Labour Party lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan as its “Plan B” candidate beforehand.

However, one might still remember that Edward Yiu Chung-yim, also an ousted pan-democratic lawmaker, was given the green light to run in the Kowloon West by-election in March this year, only to lose to pro-establishment rookie Vincent Cheng Wing-shun by a razor-thin margin, which observers attribute to poor campaign tactics.

So why did the government go easy on Yiu but tough on Lau?

According to the analysis of a pro-establishment figure, Yiu was allowed to run because Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was probably desperate at the time to win over the moderate pan-dems.

And since Yiu had never publicly rooted for Hong Kong independence, Beijing’s “red line”, he was given the green light to join the race. It was an outcome that the pro-establishment camp didn’t find surprising at all.

The pro-establishment figure went on to say that Lam and Beijing could have reached some sort of an agreement: as long as she promised to crack down on separatism, along with separatist individuals and groups, with an iron fist, the central government wouldn’t be piling pressure on the SAR administration over the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law at least in the short run.

That also explains why Lau was barred from running again: she is a separatist “in self-determination clothing”, according to this analysis.

If such analysis didn’t deviate from the facts, it would be a logical inference that Lau’s disqualification was part of the government’s plan to buy itself more time on the issue of enacting Article 23.

As long as Lam is able to demonstrate to Beijing that she is fully capable of banning anybody who is advocating Hong Kong independence from becoming a member of the Legislative Council under the existing legal framework, then chances are, she would be given more flexibility and space over the enactment of Article 23.

Lam has said repeatedly that the administration will “carefully consider all relevant factors, act prudently and continue its efforts to create a favorable social environment” for the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law.

If we read between the lines, we can tell what she probably intends to postpone the legislative initiative as long as possible, probably until at least after the 2020 Legco election.

The reason is simple: given that the enactment of Article 23 is a politically radioactive issue so much so that even the pro-Beijing camp is feeling jittery about it, it would be in the government’s best interests not to bring it up before the 2020 Legco election in order not to undermine the election prospects of the pro-establishment camp.

After all, who is going to ensure the passage of government bills in the legislature if the pro-establishment camp loses its majority of the seats in 2020?

However, if our inference stands, then it will bring us to the next question: is Lam likely to immediately embark on the enactment of Article 23 after the 2020 Legco election?

Again, it would be logical to infer that she wouldn’t, because by that time she will only have less than two years left in her current term of office as chief executive, and it would definitely prove extremely difficult to complete the legislative initiative within that short period of time.

That said, why not leave the task to the next chief executive, which may Lam herself again?

The fact that Lam didn’t propose any timetable or roadmap for the enactment of Article 23 in her latest policy address, and that she has slightly adjusted her take on the issue from “carefully [considering] all relevant factors” into “[exploring] ways to enable the Hong Kong society to respond positively to this constitutional requirement on the HKSAR” may serve as an indication that she is likely to leave the task to the next government.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 15

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JC/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe