A new Legco and a new chief: what to expect

October 17, 2016 16:27
New Legco president Andrew Leung (left) is likely to have a hard time in the next four years working with localist lawmakers like Sixtus Leung (center) and Yau Wai-ching. Photos: HKEJ, Bloomberg, Reuters

The farce when the city’s legislature commenced its new term last week unfolded just exactly as envisaged by lifestyle magazine Monocle:

"The first session of Hong Kong’s sixth legislative council promises to be lively as its new class of lawmakers take their seats.

"First order of business: swearing an oath to uphold the city’s mini-constitution (several 'localist' politicians elected on a platform of greater self-determination have vowed to alter the wording).

"Next up on the agenda: appointing a president to keep order. Andrew Leung is assured of victory as the pick of the majority-wielding pro-Beijing camp, although his tenure may have been tainted before it has begun.

"The rule enforcer in chief is suspected of contravening the constitution by holding a UK passport while deputising for outgoing president Jasper Tsang. His suitability for the job is also under question as a representative of industry rather than ordinary voters.

"First-time politicians should prepare for proceedings to run late – call it good practice," the magazine noted in its daily newsletter at the beginning of the month.

The oath-taking of two localist, Legco first-timers grabbed all the limelight. As it turned out, the insertion of dissident, secessionist claims by the Youngspiration’s millennial duo Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching – some were seen as gross insults like pronouncing China as “Gin-na” – prompted the SAR government to issue a rare statement condemning the pair’s behavior, which “harmed the feelings of our compatriots”.

Interestingly, the government somewhat had felt beforehand that localist lawmakers would turn the oath-taking ritual into a show of their own, as seen in a caveat-like reminder issued one day before the event.

“If a member swears his or her oath, which is no empty form of words, in a manner or form that is inconsistent with the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance, thereby altering the substance of the oath itself, the oath offends Article 104 of the Basic Law and will therefore be unlawful and of no legal effect. The clerk to Legco has no jurisdiction to administer such an oath,” a government spokesman said, citing a 2004 judgment by Justice Hartmann, now a non-permanent judge in the Court of Final Appeal.

Section 21 of the ordinance provides that any person who declines or neglects to take an oath duly requested shall vacate office or be disqualified from entering it.

But needless to say, the government’s “warm reminder”, again, fell on deaf ears.

I did find the way these radical youngsters took their oaths disappointing and they have apparently overdone it when manifesting their stance.

I only wonder since they have already had a triumphant run into the chamber, was it necessarily to behave as if you were still garnering votes?

But I see Edward Yiu’s addition to his oath, who now represents the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape constituency, has real substance.

He said, after repeating the hackneyed words, that he would stand ready to defend Hong Kong’s institutional justice, fight for genuine universal suffrage and promote the territory’s sustainable development.

But Legco secretary-general Kenneth Chen deemed Yiu’s oath invalid.

The kerfuffle on the first day of the new legislature, and how government allies, amid a boycott by the opposition, forced the vote to name Andrew Leung as the new Legco president, a member returned uncontested through his functional constituency rather than popular vote, has only foreshadowed a more turbulent four years to come.

How many bills will be killed by the fresh round of fracas?

Andrew Leung is from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, a Beijing-friendly entity, but it was not until recently that the public learnt that the long-time pro-establishment heavyweight had British citizenship.

No laws were violated when he, as a British citizen, chaired the House Committee throughout the past four years since the Basic Law only provides that the Legco president shall be a Hong Kong permanent resident with no right of abode in any foreign country.

Still, many for sure wouldn’t see him in a flattering light that he possessed foreign nationality while working as Legco’s No. 2 officer.

These government allies should have the basic political acuteness to settle their foreign nationality issues beforehand, but Andrew Leung has obviously failed in that aspect.

He didn’t renounce his British passport until the last minute before his bid for Legco president was endorsed by the whole pro-Beijing bloc, leading to hails of criticism from the opposition that he deliberately concealed his British citizenship.

His comrades in arms “elected” him, unanimously, as the new Legco chief and he was quoted as saying that he had “a very heavy heart” due to the opposition’s walkout.

The only thing one can guarantee is that his job, as the first-ever Legco president who has never taken part nor won in any popular election since the 1997 handover, is going to be daunting, since the rift between the two feuding camps has shown no sign of healing, not to mention the emerging cracks within the pro-Beijing coalition.

I have a sinking feeling that he will never be able to tame Legco.

Then is it a hint that Beijing will back Leung Chun-ying for a second term or even find a more confrontational replacement since the legislature is bound to descend into a sheer mess?

CY Leung is already bad enough.

But should Beijing pick an even more bellicose figure, then it will find itself in an awkward position once the strong-arm tactics boomerang.

Beijing must realize that it needs a clever chief executive who can execute to the fullest its orders and imperatives in a subtle manner.

When Beijing indicates an unfavored lawmaker or activist, the chief executive and the entire government operatives can only, mindful of all the public eyes, suppress or smother him in a skillful, covert way with a watertight script or excuse to convince others.

Otherwise, people’s perception of Beijing will take a beating, particularly when the central government strives to project a favorable image.

Unfortunately, it may be Beijing’s knee-jerk response to harden its stance in the face of defiance, as it’s in the nature of an authoritarian regime.

When it comes to our city’s political prospects, “bleak” – a word I hate to mention – is all I can think of.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 13.

Translation by Frank Chen with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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