27 January 2020
The government is planning to push the national anthem bill in the current legislative session. Photo: AFP
The government is planning to push the national anthem bill in the current legislative session. Photo: AFP

Government considers relaunching national anthem bill

One might still remember that back in June, when the extradition bill saga began to escalate, the government not only suspended the legislative initiative but also postponed the resumption of the second reading of the national anthem bill in order to avoid fighting on multiple fronts.

Yet despite the ongoing social unrest, it seems the administration is actually rather optimistic about how things are going to play out in the coming days, and has decided to place the bill on the legislative calendar again.

Although Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor didn’t mention a word about any intention to relaunch the national anthem law both in her policy address and its supplement, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) reveals in a document tabled to the Legislative Council last Thursday that the government is planning to push the bill in the current legislative session.

The CMAB said in its document that the Legco bills committee had spent over 50 hours discussing the national anthem bill in the last legislative session, and therefore it is about time to hold a floor vote on it.

However, a government figure has revealed that even though the CMAB’s official statement suggests that the administration intends to resume the second reading of the national anthem bill in the current legislative session, it is quite unlikely that it will table the bill to Legco shortly.

The source explained that since the District Council elections are just about a month ahead, it is unnecessary to fuel public outrage by pressing ahead with the bill at this sensitive moment.

Moreover, the source said Legco is due to take its long Christmas break a month after the District Council elections, and as such, the bill won’t be tabled to the legislature for the resumption of the second reading until early 2020 at the earliest.

A pro-establishment figure has also pointed out that even though the national anthem law is undoubtedly less controversial than the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and public backlash against it was less severe than expected when it was first proposed back in January this year, the overall public sentiment has already changed drastically ever since the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill movement.

And since society is currently deeply divided, the source is worried that re-introducing the national anthem bill amid a highly volatile social atmosphere may ignite another huge firestorm of political controversy and turbulence.

However, a more seasoned pro-establishment figure has come up with an “alternative analysis”, saying that it might now be good timing for the government to force a vote on the bill.

He said that since the state of political affairs in the city is chaotic, there is a chance that some less controversial legislative initiatives such as the national anthem bill might slip under the public radar and gain their passage through Legco quietly.

He then went on to say that as passing the national anthem bill is a “state mission”, there is virtually no justification for the pro-establishment camp to be equivocal or evasive on the issue.

The bill might actually stand a smaller chance of getting passed if the government presses ahead with it in “peaceful times” because that would allow pan-democrats to focus all their firepower on this single issue and turn public opinion against it, the source explained.

On the other hand, the pan-dems have their hands full amid the current social turmoil, and that being the case, the administration should seize this golden opportunity and launch a surprise attack regarding the bill, he added.

However, as the anti-government protests are still continuing unabated, even the moderate pan-dems have become increasingly radicalized in the face of the government’s tough stance, and are now mounting an all-out onslaught against the pro-Beijing camp in Legco on basically every issue.

As such, we believe if the government still insists on pushing the national anthem bill through Legco at this stage, it will be tantamount to providing the pan-dems with extra ammunition.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.