Pity the pan-democrats no longer sitting in what has, as of this week, become a rubber-stamp Legislative Council (Legco). When the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam used Covid-19 as an excuse to postpone the September elections – in which pro-establishment lawmakers were poised to take a beating – most of Legco’s 22 pan-dems, despite their outrage, felt duty-bound to stay on for the year-long extended term. Otherwise, they reasoned, there would be no checks and balances on a government moving at warp speed toward the authoritarian dark side.
As it turns out, however, the three opposition lawmakers who chose to quit the legislature – Tanya Chan of the Civic Party, Eddie Chu of Council Front and Raymond Chan of People Power – showed both prescience and principle. Here we are just a month into what Chu and Raymond Chan rejected as an “illegal term” and four pan-dem legislators have been booted out of Legco, prompting all of the remaining 15 to declare that they will resign in protest on Thursday.
The Chinese leadership, reportedly angered by the filibustering employed by pan-dems to frustrate government initiatives, acted on Wednesday to bring these delaying tactics to a halt. As reported by the state-run Xinhua news agency, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), China’s top legislative body, endorsed a resolution stating that Hong Kong lawmakers should be removed from office if they are deemed to have opposed Beijing’s sovereignty over the city, backed calls for independence or engaged in any acts jeopardising national security, such as calling for foreign powers to interfere in Hong Kong or mainland affairs. Although disrupting legislative procedures through filibustering was not mentioned in the resolution, it was almost certainly also a factor.
Fast on the heels of the news from Xinhua came the Hong Kong government’s announcement that four opposition lawmakers had been unseated with immediate effect. They are the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Dennis Kwok Wing-hang and Kwok Ka-ki as well as Kenneth Leung of the Professionals Guild. These particular legislators made for easy targets as they had already been disqualified from running for re-election in the September polls, although—most likely to Beijing’s chagrin—the Hong Kong government nevertheless allowed them to serve in Legco’s extended term.
In July, election officials, swayed by the harsh new national security law Beijing had imposed on the city in the previous month, barred the four incumbents from seeking another term in office because they had called on foreign leaders to levy sanctions on the Hong Kong and Chinese governments for human rights violations—appeals now judged a violation of the new law.
This is not the first time the Chinese leadership has acted to purge Legco of lawmakers perceived to be anti-China. Six duly elected Legco members were previously given the boot after the NPCSC issued a 2016 interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law, which requires all public officials to “swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. The NPCSC interpretation added that this allegiance must be sworn “solemnly” and “sincerely.”
Localists Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching were disqualified in November of that year, and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim were stripped of their seats less than a year later—all for turning their Legco swearing-in ceremonies into anti-China protests.
The difference between Wednesday’s disqualifications and the earlier ones, however, is significant. The government pursued and won court rulings that ultimately ousted the six rebel lawmakers who made a mockery of their oaths. This time, the courts were entirely bypassed by Hong Kong officials, although the judicial system could play an important role in the future if the disqualified lawmakers choose to mount a legal challenge to the government’s decision.
Meanwhile, the en masse repudiation of Hong Kong’s farcical new legislative order by Legco’s departing pan-dems will, of course, bring more international condemnation and opprobrium to our city, but their resignations must sit just fine with President Xi Jinping and the rest of the Chinese leadership. Now they have in Hong Kong what they have always enjoyed on the mainland—a parrot for a parliament that says and does whatever the central authorities require.
Indeed, at this sad point in both Hong Kong’s political and Covid-19-struck economic development, perhaps Legco should simply be abolished altogether to allow rule by decree. This would not only prove a much more efficient system of governance but also save mountains of taxpayer money that could be put to far better purpose.
Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen alone pockets HK$205,640 per month in salary. In addition, in a time of masks, social distancing and bans on group gatherings of more than four people, he is granted HK$225,510 annually for entertainment expenses.
The average, run-of-the-mill legislator rakes in more than HK$100,000 per month in wages while also enjoying state-of-the-art medical coverage, an office allowance, travel expenses and more.
What’s the point of Hong Kong taxpayers dishing out all that cash on a legislature that is no more than a rubber-stamp machine?
And the city could recoup a lot more misspent lucre if the powers that be in Beijing simply granted a long-standing wish of most Hong Kong people by unceremoniously dumping our current CE, who earns a whoppingly inflated HK$5.2 million a year.
There is no need to replace her. Just install liaison chief Luo Huining and his mainland minions in Government House as they are the ones calling all the shots in Hong Kong anyway.
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