Chaos stops play in Leung’s Legco hardball game

May 22, 2014 16:11
Leung Chun-ying's tough stand has poured oil on the fire of executive-legislative relations. Photo: AFP

Longstanding tension between Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and radical lawmakers turned ugly Thursday as his regular question-time session was cut short after “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung rejected marching orders from Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.

Leung Kwok-hung and two other radical legislators, Albert Chan Wai-yip and Chan Chi-chuen, were ordered to leave the chamber after they shouted abuse and threw objects from their seats. But Leung Kwok-hung refused to leave and challenged Tsang’s decision, insisting he did nothing wrong.

The outburst came after CY Leung spoke and answered questions for about an hour on a host of issues, including the Occupy Central campaign, executive-legislative relations and the city’s competitiveness.

With government-legislature ties strained further by the ongoing budget filibuster, CY Leung poured oil on the fire by going on the attack at question time Thursday.

In his opening remarks, CY Leung fired salvos against a handful of lawmakers for their filibustering of the government budget, which he decried for becoming the norm, not the exception. He went on at length about the disruption of people’s lives caused by legislators “hijacking” the wishes of the people.

He took advantage of one lawmaker's question to “lecture” lawmakers on the need to behave themselves. "We have talked a lot about democracy, let’s talk more about civilized [behavior],” CY said. Officials, he argued, have already exercised great restraint, adding “we do not answer back to verbal abuse, or fight back after objects are thrown at us.”

With a month to go until the June 22 Occupy Central “referendum” on three universal suffrage models, the chief executive showed a tougher government’s stance. While reiterating that police would definitely take action on such unlawful acts as Occupy Central, he also claimed “not a small number of” financial firms in Central were considering suing people who “paralyze” Central for the economic losses incurred.

CY Leung has also renewed calls for people to speak out to stop the blockade. But his militant approach makes a mockery of his repeated pledge in Thursday’s opening remarks to attach great importance to the executive-legislative relationship. 

Given the unabated unruly behavior of the radical legislators in recent years, he and his team can be pardoned for their frustration and tendency to play hardball with the lawmakers.

But Civic Party legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit hit the nail on the head when he said CY Leung was at fault for his “paternalistic” approach at Thursday’s session.

“[CY] Leung said he wants to improve the executive-legislature relationship. But what he did was provoke our members. He’s talking like father talking to his son,” Leong said.

But CY Leung showed no signs of retreat, giving a strongly worded prepared statement on the melee after the abrupt end of question time, the first time in the history of the city’s legislature, both after and before 1997 that the session has been cut short.

Leung put the blame on the legislature, warning that the behavior of some members had damaged the city’s reputation and the dignity of the government and the whole legislature. As in his remarks at the question time, he did not say what more his team would and could do to bridge the gap between the two arms of power.

Executive Council Convenor Lam Woon-kwong, who is a veteran high-ranking government official, has lamented that the present executive-legislature relationship is the worst he has experienced. He warned it has reached a turning point and the legislature was in a state of semi-paralysis.

CY Leung has warned that filibustering by some members, which was first adopted during scrutiny of budget a few years ago, has spread to other Legco meetings. Officials warned earlier that delays in Legco decisions on matters such as redevelopment of public hospitals could push up costs and postpone services.

The worsening political squabbles in Hong Kong have ostensibly taken its toll on the city’s competitiveness. According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook published by the IMD Business School in Switzerland this week, Hong Kong has for the first time in a decade dropped from the top three most competitive economies to fourth, trailing Singapore.

The report said the city fell to 25th place from 18th in government decision-making and to 21st from 13th in policy agility.

The chaotic scenes at Legco Thursday do not augur well for the city in the near term in a politically sensitive season featuring the June 4  anniversary and the July 1 march –- and with deep-seated sociopolitical conflicts set to be aggravated by the looming clash over political reform.

-- Contact the writer at [email protected]



He was editor-at-large at the South China Morning Post and, more recently, deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.