Saturday, October 28, 2017

[RTHK LTHK / HKFP] Fighting every battle: A long week in Hong Kong politics

A week is a long time in politics. Just look at this past week.

On Monday, nine democratic legislators joined a luncheon hosted by the Chief Executive, in order to speak to her on political reform, housing, juvenile suicide and other issues. Most of us described the atmosphere as cordial.

But, on Tuesday morning, the Chief Executive dropped a bombshell by announcing that the Government would adjourn the Stamp Duty (Amendment) Bill in order to make way for a non-binding motion on the co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon Station of the Express Rail Link, making sure that this non-binding motion could be presented and passed in Legco next week.

To us in the democratic camp, this was clearly an ambush. The earlier the passing of this non-binding motion, which the government hopes will create a false sense of public endorsement, the harder it will be for us to force our government to openly consult on the co-location arrangement. It will become even harder for us to get any further disclosure from the government about this co-location arrangement.

Most of all, we know that this arrangement will permanently damage “One Country Two Systems” and undermine the Basic Law, as the Hong Kong government will actually “rent” land to Mainland China, resulting in the absolutely horrifying precedence of allowing mainland laws to be carried out by mainland officials, overriding Hong Kong laws on Hong Kong soil.

So, any goodwill from the lunch the day before evaporated less than twenty-four hours later.

Then, on Wednesday, at the start of the first regular LegCo meeting of the year, to express our disapproval of this unscrupulous tactic by the Government, we the democratic camp had no choice but to filibuster — with all of us speaking against the government motion to suspend the Stamp Duty (Amendment) Bill, and by making quorum calls.

But we did not forget the other storm brewing over the pro-establishment camp’s attempt to overhaul and amend the rules of procedure of LegCo. The camp has the single goal of cutting short meeting time in both the Finance Committee and the Council meeting itself by limiting the rights of members to ask questions and move motions, thereby limiting their abilities to monitor the government and hold it accountable.

We will come back to the situation in the Finance Committee later. But, for the rules of procedure of the main Council, the pro-establishment camp was already said to be planning a series of changes to the rules of procedure. For example, limiting the power of members to form select committees to investigate government wrongdoings, and formally expanding the power of the President to prevent members from making amendments to motions. So, in the late afternoon of Wednesday, the democratic camp fought back by submitting thirty-four resolutions to amend the rules of procedure ourselves.

Why did we do that? First, for any such member’s amendment to be passed, it must be passed by both the geographical and functional constituencies of LegCo. And normally, the democratic camp, which received more than half of the popular votes in Hong Kong, holds the veto power in the geographical constituency. It does not anymore, after the disqualifications of six legislators.

Now the pro-establishment camp, despite receiving fewer votes in the election just a little over a year ago, holds the majority of LegCo seats in both constituencies. This is the unfair advantage that they hold, and they are not going to let this golden opportunity slip by without trying to change the rules of procedure in their favor, permanently cutting the power of LegCo and its members to monitor the government in the name of limiting filibusters.

The other reasons for the democratic camp to submit our own series of proposed changes to the rules of procedure is to show the people of Hong Kong the proper ways to amend these rules — by expanding LegCo’s power to monitor the government, making LegCo more modern and inclusive by adopting sign language as an official language, and making it more democratic by allowing only geographically elected members to serve as President, for instance. 

All in all, we want to make sure that the pro-establishment’s proposed amendments to the rules of procedure cannot presented in the Council meetings before the by-election in March next year, when we may have a chance to rectify some of the unfairness caused by the disqualifications of our members. Of course, now it is up to the LegCo President to rule on approving our proposed resolutions, or not. If he is to rule against us, he better have a lot of good reasons.

Then, a familiar and ironic thing happened on Thursday. Not long after we exhausted our means to delay the vote on the motion to suspend the Stamp Duty (Amendment) Bill in LegCo, the meeting was unexpectedly adjourned because the pro-establishment camp failed to fill the quorum required by only one person — despite the fact that about half a dozen more of them were present in the building.

It seems that they have accomplished what they were there for, to adjourn the Stamp Duty (Amendment) Bill, so that the co-location non-binding motion can proceed next week. And by causing an adjournment, they can conveniently blame us. But how could the minority cause an adjournment that the majority did not want to see happen, when they had more than enough people in the building to make the quorum? It was as close to a setup as it could be.

Finally, on Friday, back to the controversy in the Finance Committee, with its chairman’s decision to unilaterally issue the so-called “chairman’s directions” to, for example, redefine the length of a meeting so that ejected members cannot return to the next two-hour meeting in the same day.

The chairman, Chan Kin-Por, believes he has the full power to issue these directions without consultation, despite the legal and procedural points that our camp came up with. Chan simply told us that he hadn’t changed his mind, and, when we asked him to hold an open meeting to discuss his directions, he said that if he changed his mind, he would “lose face.”

So, that’s what our pro-establishment camp in LegCo really cares about. Besides worrying about losing face, they only want to cut short the meetings, even if it means we cannot force the government to be more responsible and transparent, and that we cannot stop the government from causing all these rampant cost overruns over and over again.

As for the government, all that it cares about seems to be letting their political objectives, such as the co-location arrangement, override true livelihood matters, including housing and stamp duties. And, in order to carry out its political mission, the government has no qualms about overturning LegCo procedures.

So the democratic camp has no choice but to unite and stand firm on our principles, and fight to our last stand, first, because of the unfair and undemocratic political system in Hong Kong, and second, because of the political prosecutions that caused the disqualifications of six legislators.

We may not win every battle to come, but we have to make sure we do not give up on any one of them. We must continue to fight for the underdogs, for the rights of the minority, especially when the minority actually is the majority — as the majority of citizens in Hong Kong actually hold a minority in political rights. Such is our mission.

For Radio Television Hong Kong's Letter for Hong Kong, Oct 22, 2017

Also published on Hong Kong Free Press, October 23, 2017