Let’s be quite clear: Democratic Party legislator Ted Hui acted like an idiot in seizing the mobile phone belonging to a civil servant working in the legislative building. However what has followed this act of stupidity has been an outbreak of politically motivated overreaction that threatens to turn this incident into something much worse than a farce.

Hui says he seized the phone to discover whether the official was breaching privacy laws by recording the movements of lawmakers in order to help ensure that there was a quorum in the chamber.

ted hui phone
Ted Hui.

There is clearly something questionable about government officials keeping track of legislator’s movements and, in effect, working as enforcers to help secure the passage of legislation. This, in itself, undermines the independence of the legislature and suggests that although the government is supposed to be above party politics and, by law does not allow party members to become officials, public officials are being deployed for party political purposes.

If Hui had not acted in such an absurd manner, a strong case could have been made to expose and discredit this so called ‘paparazzi’ operation. Instead he has managed to divert attention from this issue.

Hui has now apologised twice and the Democratic Party has suspended him from membership and launched its own disciplinary procedures.

None of this satisfies the pro-government camp, which is hardly able to suppress their glee after being handed this unexpected gift. Sensing blood they are using this as a golden opportunity to discredit the democrats.

The usual suspects literally lined up to condemn Hui and urge punishment. John Lee, the Secretary for Security went so far as to declare that this was ‘barbaric behaviour’, an accusation then taken up by the Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Obviously these august persons are not students of barbarism or they would know what this really means.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. File photo: LegCo.

However a cool headed response is not going to be allowed to get in the way of this story. On Friday legislators were summoned to a special session to review a brief video recording of the incident and demands have been made for Hui to be expelled from the legislature. The police have been called in and urged to press various charges.

In the current Legislative Council session the pro-government majority have managed to expel six members so far, if they can add Hui to the list they will have succeeded in taking out more than 10 per cent of the council’s members. The fact that some of those expelled have also shown stupidity and thus helped their tormentors does not obviate the profoundly anti-democratic nature of these expulsions.

The blunderbuss of expulsion is a powerful weapon that is used with considerable caution in other legislatures around the world, not least because of an awareness that once political battles are fought by means of eliminating opponents the way is open for a very different and far more savage method of conducting politics.

However Hong Kong’s pro-government politicians are in no mood for caution because they know that not only are they protected by a system that ensures the impossibility of the opposition gaining a majority of seats in the legislature but they are also backed by the powerful resources of the Central Government and most major media outlets which are also far from shy in adding to the opposition bating.

In a statement condemning Hui the Legislative Council Commission said. “Hui’s behaviour brought shame to the Legislative Council and violated public expectations for lawmakers.”

Their indignation would have been considerably more convincing if they had been prepared to apply the same high standard for responsible behaviour to pro-government legislator Junius Ho who called for the killing ‘without mercy’ of pro-independence activists. This incitement to murder was not considered to be inappropriate and the pro-government majority used their voting power to ensure that this matter could not even be discussed on the floor of the chamber.

junius ho
Junius Ho. Photo: Junius Ho, via Facebook.

Nor did the pro-government camp bat an eyelid when one of their own, Holden Chow, abused his position as chairman of a committee investigating the former Chief Executive CY Leung’s questionable payments from the Australian-based UGC company. Not only did he leak details of the inquiry to Mr Leung but also allowed him to dictate the committee’s terms of reference. Again, lawmakers were not even allowed to debate this matter.

As Karl Marx famously said ‘history repeats itself.. first as tragedy then as farce’.

Those who are so enamoured with the Chinese Communist Party, might like to brush up on their Marxism.

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship