25 January 2020
A number of Liberal Party members hope that James Tien and Tommy Cheung can settle their differences and bring a happy ending to the “storm in a teacup”. Photo: HKEJ
A number of Liberal Party members hope that James Tien and Tommy Cheung can settle their differences and bring a happy ending to the “storm in a teacup”. Photo: HKEJ

Liberals would rather focus on big picture than internal row

Around mid-July, the Liberal Party was engulfed in a row among its leaders.

Its four honorary chairpersons, including James Tien Pei-chun, sent a joint letter to their partymates demanding that chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan resign from the Executive Council (Exco).

In their joint letter, the four lambasted Cheung for insisting on issuing a statement supporting the resumption of the second reading of the extradition bill despite the June 9 protest. They said such a statement was tantamount to making the Liberal Party “an accomplice” in the legislative push.

As the party is set to hold its annual conference on Tuesday, a number of Liberal Party members hope that Tien and Cheung can settle their differences and bring a happy ending to this “storm in a teacup”.

Earlier on, news got out that Tien and Cheung might go head to head with each other at Tuesday’s party meeting over their dispute.

Meanwhile, it is also rumored that some party heavyweights on Tien’s side are calling on other Liberals to join forces to press Cheung to choose between either remaining in Exco or resigning from his position as party chairman.

As to whether Cheung should quit Exco, a seasoned Liberal, who is “categorized” as a member of the “Tien camp”, has reiterated that the position of party chairman and the party’s representative to Exco should be held by two different persons because on some occasions, there are conflicting interests and priorities between the two roles.

The seasoned party member went on to explain that all Exco members are duty-bound to support whatever decisions are made by the government because the council enforces a system of collective responsibility.

However, given that the Liberal Party chairperson has the responsibility to look after the interests of the party and its members, being an Exco member and the party chair at the same time might put him in a very difficult position, the Liberal said.

As such, it would be better to separate the two roles, he added.

Nevertheless, the Liberal also said that since the party’s current constitution doesn’t ban the incumbent chairperson from serving as an Exco member at the same time, he said the matter could be open for discussion at the party conference.

Besides, he pointed out, whether or not the party chair should be allowed to sit on Exco is only a minor issue compared to the ongoing political turmoil that is gripping our city. That said, members should stay focused on the “big picture” first.

In fact, some Liberals believe that even if those attending the party conference arrive at a consensus – either verbally or by amending the party constitution – that the chairperson can no longer be an Exco member at the same time, there is no rush in forcing Cheung to make a choice at this point.

Rather, they said, whatever decision is made at the party conference on Tuesday, it is perfectly okay to defer the enforcement of that decision until next year, when the party will see a leadership overhaul.

Intriguingly, though, some Liberal district councillors have said that the row in the party leadership may actually work in their favor when it comes to pitching themselves to voters in the District Council elections in November.

For example, they can present themselves as being on Tien’s side whenever they come across “yellow-ribbon” voters, and on Cheung’s side when facing “blue-ribbon” voters.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 22

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.