Pan-democrats trapped in LegCo’s new normal

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Pan-democrats will increasingly find themselves between a rock and a hard place having to maintain an uneasy pact with localist freshmen.

A week is a long time in politics – too long to guess whether two rebellious lawmakers will be allowed to retake their oaths. Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang (梁頌恆) and Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) may lose their seats for their provocative behaviour, but it is the pan-democrats who will suffer the most following this renewed mud fight in the Legislative Council. The oath-taking saga can turn even uglier and it is just the beginning for them.

The second Council meeting was brief as the pro-establishment camp triggered a quorum call to adjourn the meeting by staging a walk-out protest against Leung and Yau. The High Court, meanwhile, will hear on 3 November a judicial review sought by the Department of Justice and CY Leung to overrule LegCo president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen’s (梁君彥) decision and forbid the Youngspiration duo to have another take. While this controversy will most likely drag on, it has also put the pan-democrats in a passive position where they have to defend something they do not really appreciate but can’t risk breaking away from their more radical counterparts and dissolving the loosely-attached ‘anti-establishment’ camp (非建制派) starting from Day 1.

This is why the pan-democrats have been trying to put the blame on the administration for interfering into the legislature and the pro-establishment camp for surrendering the LegCo’s integrity. Even they themselves, and many of their supporters who still have strong attachment to mainland China, would find the use of the term “Shina (支那)” during oath-taking crossing the line.


Creative disruption

That is not a matter for the radical localists including Baggio Leung, Yau Wai-ching as well as Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai (鄭松泰). Strategically and ideologically speaking, it makes perfect sense for them to be disruptive in order to distinguish themselves from the more procedural-abiding democrats, and they have a fair share of voters supporting them to do so. Therefore it would be naive to believe that these new lads will not stir up more disputes, much to the dismay of the pan-democrats.


Pro-est the winners

This will leave the pan-democrats caught in between and exposed to any future clashes ignited by the radical localists and the pro-establishment camp. The latter can take advantage of the situation to turn public opinion against the opposition while offering them an olive branch at some point as a divide-and-conquer tactics. The implication is that the pan-democrats will have to choose between compromising with the pro-establishment camp as the weaker side, or keep shielding the likes of Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching who are calculating for their own sake.

The first beneficiary coming out of this situation was President Andrew Leung. For the majority, news about ‘bad accents’ by two dissentient lawmakers are after all more eye-catchy than some technical issues on nationality that took Eddie Chu Hoi-dick (朱凱迪) to London just for a clarification from the British Home Office. In addition, Andrew Leung is the only one from the pro-establishment camp opposing to the government’s court injunction and judicial review application to bar the Youngspiration duo from a second take. The fact that he is the president and has had to defend his own decision has somehow turned him from a partisan, dodgy businessman to the LegCo’s ‘protector of the realm’ overnight.

Despite an ill-fated negotiation to allocate key LegCo posts among the two camps, the pan-democrats still managed to claim five chairman posts and 15 in total out of 29 chairman and deputy chairman posts (see table). A boost in numbers compared to recent years (see graph) but hardly more than a symbolic change, as most of the key posts are still in the firm hands of the pro-establishment camp.





“Post-truth politics”

In a recent article published on AM730, former LegCo president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing (曾鈺成) described the current situation as post-truth politics in which politicians rally through emotions and pre-conditioned stances instead of the details of policy. While this is not unknown to Hong Kong, Tsang appeared to be more pessimistic: “If you are feeling uncomfortable with the phenomenon, perhaps you can find consolation in the American presidential election,” Tsang wrote. “When you see how the Trump and Hillary factions are being lenient to themselves but strict to their opponents, and then you look back at how our honourable legislators openly defending absurd words and deeds coming from their own camp, there is no point to be disturbed.”

The upcoming four years will be a tough one for the pan-democrats and an accommodating administration after March 2017 is unlikely to change the situation. It will be a true test of their ‘political wisdom’, as Ronny Tong Ka-wah (湯家驊), to come up with a coherent strategy on cooperating with the radicals instead of looking for an ad hoc solution when another chanting or throwing of luncheon meat erupts.