Date
24 July 2019
Not only the government is in full retreat after its catastrophic defeat in the extradition bill saga, but so are pro-establishment parties. Photo: Bloomberg
Not only the government is in full retreat after its catastrophic defeat in the extradition bill saga, but so are pro-establishment parties. Photo: Bloomberg

Government now in full retreat

The proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance are, for all intents and purposes, dead in the water after the bill has been suspended indefinitely, but the immense impact of the saga is continuing to sweep through our political landscape, and is profoundly changing the dynamics in our legislature.

After Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor offered her “most sincere apology” to the public over her handling of the extradition bill on Tuesday, the government is now basically in full retreat on all fronts. 

As a result, not only has the administration decided not to insist on getting the National Anthem Bill through the Legislative Council before the legislature takes its summer recess in July, but it has also given up the idea of pushing the funding request for the studies on the proposed artificial islands east of Lantau through the Legco Finance Committee.

However, even though the government has postponed the funding request for the contentious Lantau Tomorrow Vision project, it doesn’t necessarily mean the job of committee chairman Chan Kin-por would get easier.

That’s because as of the start of June, there were still at least 39 funding requests tabled by the government awaiting scrutiny by the finance committee.

Among these funding bills, some are related to potentially inflammatory projects such as the “site formation and infrastructure works for public housing development at Wang Chau, Yuen Long”, which critics say is a product of “government-business-landlord-triad collusion”.

And given the highly confrontational atmosphere within the legislature at this point, these controversial funding bills are expected to be on the hit list of the pan-dems, who are now mounting a “non-cooperative movement” in the finance committee.

As such, even though the Lantau Tomorrow Vision has been temporarily pulled, and even if Chan has already decided to call a series of extra meetings totaling 41 hours, the finance committee would still be fighting an uphill battle trying to examine and vote on other funding bills before Legco takes its summer break in July.

The government issued a press release on behalf of the Legco Secretariat on Friday that the meetings of Legco’s House Committee and Finance Committee originally scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. respectively had been canceled.

Worse still, student unions have announced they are escalating their protests after the government failed to meet their demands, including the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and probe of the alleged abuse of power by the police. Among other actions, they were staging a sit-in outside the Legco complex on Friday.

Later in the day, the protesters were able to occupy several major thoroughfares, including Harcourt Road, Tim Mei Avenue and Tim Wa Avenue.

Hundreds of demonstrators also moved to Wan Chai to demonstrate in front of the police headquarters, before the protesters staged a sit-in inside the lobby of Revenue Tower first and then another one inside the Immigration Tower. Some also gathered outside the Queensway Government Offices in Admiralty for protest later in the afternoon.

It cannot be ruled out these actions might turn into another round of clashes with police.

Meanwhile, not only the government is in full retreat after its catastrophic defeat in the extradition bill saga, but so are pro-establishment parties.

In fact, pro-Beijing lawmakers had “submerged” for a couple of days after the June 12 clashes in an apparent effort to refrain from commenting on the issue so as not to further fuel public anger and draw criticism.

And some pan-democratic District Councillors have also noticed that pro-establishment organizations have been adopting a low-profile over the past week, with all the street banners supporting the extradition bill push having been removed.

At the same time, the pan-dems are also quickly seizing the opportunity presented by the extradition bill saga to enhance their own propaganda in the community, urging voters to “punish the pro-establishment camp at the ballot box” in the upcoming District Council and Legco elections.

Some believe that the pro-establishment camp, after having gauged the public pulse, could have deliberately leaked to the press the details of lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions allegedly swearing in tears at the chief executive during a closed-door meeting at the Government House last Saturday over her handling of the extradition bill.

This is an updated version of a column that appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 20

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/CG

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.

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