Rule of law wrecked by hooligans

Editorial | Mary Ma 3 Jul 2019

After an eventful night in the Legislative Council, the violence televised here and worldwide offered the administration the justification to label those radical protesters hooligans.

That was the most unfortunate twist of events - in light of the peaceful demonstrations by 550,000 people on July 1, and more than a million people in the weeks before - in opposition to the unpopular extradition bill that by now is effectively dead.

As I've said before, as soon as a protest turns violent, the moral high ground begins to drop.

Will what happened in the government building on Monday tip the scales back to favor the establishment following weeks of setbacks due to the misjudged introduction of the extradition bill?

The answer will be known later this year after the district council elections, the first major territory-wide vote since the incident.

Violence is unacceptable, with its spread sufficient to undermine the SAR's future.

It wasn't the first time demonstrators have targeted the legislature. For several months between mid-2009 and 2010, rounds of protests were held outside Legco to oppose construction of the Express Rail Link to connect Hong Kong with the mainland's high-speed rail network.

More recently on June 12, the legislature was targeted as protesters battled to prevent lawmakers from passing the extradition bill which then was not yet suspended.

In both incidents, the demonstrators had a clear objective that was to block the proposed legislation.

In contrast, Monday's storming of Legco appeared to be aimless, since it's no secret the bill was already a dead horse - even though Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has stubbornly refused to back down far enough to withdraw or scrap the bill entirely, while still insisting it was only suspended.

While the July 1 incident is giving the pro-establishment camp a chance to fight back, pan-democrats' pleading with the radicals to retreat during those long hours on Monday was just lame, if not totally hypocritical.

It was the first time demonstrators broke into the heart of the legislature. There are numerous issues with the legislature under the current political setup, but the storming of the chamber nonetheless was symbolic of damaging the rule of law.

In this worst crisis since 1997, everyone felt victimized: pro-establishment lawmakers felt they were victims of the administration's quest to pass an unpopular bill; the administration felt it was victimized by the opposition-backed demonstrations; the pan-democrats felt they fell victims to the administration's high-handed approach; and young people felt they were victims of the system.

A way has to be found to enable the city to exit the impasse. But what is it? It's a tough question for those self-proclaimed geniuses in power.

At the height of the event, police were accused of setting a trap by retreating to the outside of the Legco building, clearing the way for the radicals to break into the building - including the main chamber - to let the world see the hooligans vandalizing the building. It's difficult to say if that was the case.

However, by ordering the retreat, police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung may have saved lives.

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