The High Court decision last Friday to disqualify four lawmakers has dealt a death blow to the pan-democrats and completely upset the balance of power in the Legislative Council.
Worse still, the saga is far from over yet, and the pan-democrats could suffer further loss of seats over the next few months as two other localist lawmakers, Cheng Chung-tai representing the Civic Passion and the independent Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, will stand trial on July 26 for allegedly failing to take their oath of office properly, not to mention at least five other pan-democratic lawmakers who have come under heat over the same issue. All of them could potentially face disqualification.
While no one can dispute that the administration must respect court decisions, since observing the rule of law is among the core values embraced by the people of Hong Kong, there is an urgent question lying before Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her government: how should they react to the present political crisis of unprecedented proportions within the pan-democratic camp?
Our answer to this question is simple and clear: since mending fences with the opposition and improving relations between the government and the legislature lie at the heart of Carrie Lam’s “new deal”, the last thing she should do right now when the pan-democrats are in total disarray is to milk their current misery for all it is worth and rub salt into their wounds.
In particular, as the pro-establishment camp is now controlling both the functional and geographical constituencies, Lam must avoid taking advantage of that fact and try to push highly controversial and unpopular legislative initiatives such as the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law.
It is because if Lam did that, it would not only further antagonize the pan-democrats and completely spoil her efforts in facilitating a relaxed political atmosphere both within Legco and society as a whole, it would also take a heavy toll on Lam’s own popularity.
On the other hand, if the pan-democrats are willing to keep politics out of public issues, such as the government’s HK$3.6 billion funding bill on new education initiatives, and place public interests above their own at today’s Legco financial committee meeting, then in our opinion Lam should seriously consider returning the favor to the pan-democrats by going easy on the four disqualified lawmakers over seeking full recovery of their salaries and all the reimbursable expenses related to their office as lawmakers.
It is because unlike the Youngspiration duo Sixtus Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, who had been disqualified even before the official commencement of their term of office as lawmakers back in October 2016, the four recently disqualified lawmakers did serve as full-time Legislative Councillors over the past nine months, during which they have fully and diligently carried out their official duties.
Therefore, it is open to question whether the administration should seek full recovery of their salaries, allowances and reimbursable expenses. In fact even some in the pro-establishment camp have reservations about making them return all the money.
As such, we believe if Lam and her government insists on “doing it by the book” and recovering all the money from the four disqualified lawmakers, it would definitely work against the new chief executive’s election promise of mending fences in Legco.
As far as the question of taking advantage of the current clear majority of the pro-Beijing camp in Legco and pressing ahead with controversial bills is concerned, we definitely think such strategy is not worth pursuing at all. That is because if the administration chooses to act otherwise, it will risk provoking another massive resistance movement in society.
According to a recent poll conducted by the School of Communication of the Hong Kong Baptist University, 67 percent of the respondents, who are predominantly university students, said if the government tries to push any bill to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law through Legco right now, they will definitely take to the streets and oppose it either peacefully or violently.
And 10.5 percent even said they would definitely fight back in face of police crackdown. We believe the government should take the poll results seriously and not underestimate the scale of possible public backlash against any controversial legislative initiative at this sensitive time.
In our opinion, what Lam and her administration should do right now, apart from avoiding pushing any controversial bill through Legco, is to stay put and wait for all the legal proceedings over the disqualification challenges to be completed, and then hold by-elections for the vacant Legco seats properly.
No matter what is lying in store, it is our sincere belief that Lam should stick to her election promise of repairing relations in our highly polarized society. She must not go back on her word on this fundamental issue.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 18
Translation by Alan Lee
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