Here's why the government is hung up over the Legco oath

October 12, 2016 14:08
Yau Wai-ching unfurls a banner which reads "Hong Kong is not China". Photo: Reuters

The government was so hung up on the content of the Legco oath of office that it went out of its way to remind the legislators-elect about the relevant provisions in the Basic Law, along with a citation from a court ruling.

As it turned out, three newcomers from the localist camp -- Edward Yiu, Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung -- added their own oath to the official version during Wedneday's ceremony.

Yau and Leung flashed a "Hong Kong is not China" banner when they took their oath. The oath was quickly rejected by the Legco secretary general.

Just to make sure none of this came to pass, the government on Tuesday issued a statement to remind the lawmakers that Article 104 of the Basic Law requires all oath-takers to "swear allegiance to the Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China" and uphold Hong Kong's mini constitution.

It then cited a 2004 High Court ruling which invalidates any form of oath inconsistent with the prescribed version. Such oath will be considered "unlawful and of no legal effect".

Really? Did the government have to go to such lengths or hasn't it heard of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches (one provides checks and balances to the other, remember?)

Sure, the government can issue all sorts of reminders but this is a matter for Legco itself.

It has its own rules of procedure for reciting the oath of office and it will be the one to decide whether the requirements have been met, not the government.

Does it matter?

Four years ago, Wong Yuk-man drowned out some words (People's Republic of China, for instance) in his oath with a cough to dramatize his opposition to Beijing.

He did a retake of the oath and all was well again with the world.   

The important thing to remember is that the government's reminder was mainly directed at the localists.

The one thing it dreaded was not that the oath would be changed beyond recognition or purpose but that the word "independence" might be inserted.

The worst fear of this administration is the constant popping up of that word among localists and pro-independence supporters and its worst nightmare is a scenario in which the idea catches on among ordinary Hongkongers.

What will Beijing say now about Leung Chun-ying's fitness for a second term if he cannot put away what they consider malignant forces?

That aside, the government was also trying to deflect public attention from Andrew Leung, the presumptive Legco president, amid allegations he holds a British passport and is therefore ineligible for the role.

Leung said he had renounced his British passport when he ran in the Sept. 4 elections but until now, he has yet to show any proof of renunciation.

Opposition lawmakers are champing at the bit to confront him with this issue, convinced that if he stayed and presided over its meetings and deliberations, these could be rendered illegal.

Leung was up against the Democratic Party's James To but given that the pro-establishment camp holds the balance of power in the chamber, Leung was a shoo-in for Legco president.

Leung would be the first Legco president from the small-circle functional constituency. In 1998, when he first sought election, he ran unopposed.

Clearly, the government tried to manage two scenarios here. One was much ado about nothing.

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EJ Insight writer