During Leung Chun-ying’s five-year administration, Hong Kong-based central government officials played an inordinately pervasive role in local affairs, lobbying in the Legislative Council to gain support for government bills.
This was a source of constant friction between CY Leung’s administration, which allowed and encouraged such interference to happen, and the pan-democrats who assailed it as a violation of the Basic Law, which bars Beijing officials from meddling in local affairs.
But Carrie Lam, our new leader, has promised lawmakers that her administration won’t allow Beijing officials to do her team’s duties and responsibilities. Clearly, the new chief executive wants to set her administration apart from the previous dispensation.
Attending her first Legco question-and-answer session as chief executive, Lam said her ministers will directly lobby lawmakers for support of government policies, amid accusations that Beijing’s Liaison Office often took up that role during Leung’s term.
“I will set an example myself and require my principal officials to have more interaction with lawmakers,” Lam said. “They must personally lobby lawmakers; the task must not be left to anybody else.”
For the opposition, Lam’s answer was far from satisfactory, but at least she stated clearly that from now on her cabinet will be responsible for lobbying Legco.
Lam’s pledge should be a good start to rebuild trust between the legislature and her administration.
Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung urged Lam to see to it that the Liaison Office, also known as Sai Wan in reference to its location in the Western District, performs its original role of being a liaison office, and doesn’t interfere in government affairs behind the scene.
Of course, Lam is not expected to turn hostile towards the office that did a lot to get her elected. “[The Liaison Office] has to be present everywhere to do its work,” she told the lawmaker.
However, Lam said she has no plans to tackle concerns about mainland interference in local affairs by introducing legislation under Article 22 of the Basic Law. According to that provision, no mainland authority may interfere in affairs which Hong Kong administers on its own in line with its high degree of autonomy and the “one country, two systems” principle.
From Lam’s perspective, it is quite difficult to initiate legislation that will limit the authority of her boss, the Communist Party of China, which is the source of power of the Hong Kong SAR.
Beijing has to play its role in Hong Kong affairs, but how that power is used – or abused – very much depends on the chief executive.
Leung’s fault was that he relied too much on Beijing officials in Hong Kong to rule the city; otherwise, the Liaison Office wouldn’t have much role in policy lobbying during his term.
In a way, Leung abused his power by allowing Beijing to play a major role in his administration.
But during his recent visit to the territory, President Xi Jinping stressed the importance of the “one country, two systems” principle. Beijing officials in Hong Kong should take heed and give the new chief executive enough room to implement her policies and rebuild Hong Kong society.
Lam’s performance in Legco on Wednesday was well-received by the democrats, although “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung did his usual antics and got ousted from the chamber.
The chief executive was praised as she stood next to the Legco president while answering questions, rather than standing in the center podium, as CY Leung used to do during his term, apparently to assert his power.
Lawmakers believe that Lam’s choice of where to stand in the chamber showed her respect for the legislature.
The lawmakers, including the majority of the democrats, were equally respectful: they gave her a standing ovation as she entered the chamber, a gesture they had done only once to welcome CY Leung during his term.
All this indicates that both the democrats and the administration are willing to build a normal, if constructive, relationship with Lam.
Hong Kong citizens have had enough of the political turmoil that characterized the CY Leung administration, and they hope both sides could set aside their differences and return to a normal working relationship for the good of the city.
Lam should accord due respect to the opposition, remembering that they still accounted for more than half of the votes in the last Legco election. The democrats, on the other hand, should set aside their aspiration of attaining genuine democracy for Hong Kong under the current dispensation.
The democrats should instead work with Lam to turn their proposals into implementable policy, and thus win back public trust in future elections.
They should also focus on boosting their mass support which could be turned into votes in the next election, instead of fueling enmity towards the Lam administration.
Lam’s promise not to allow Sai Wan to do the job of her administration is a good enough start to rebuild its relationship with the democrats. It’s time to work together.
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