Tien cracks open his party and Exco

Editorial | Mary Ma 9 Jul 2019

"Naughty boy" - as James Tien Pei-chun, the Liberal Party's honorary chairman is often known - is dropping another bombshell, following his landmark rebellion over the Article 23 national security bill in 2003. That year, he quit the Executive Council in protest.

Now he's calling on Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, his successor as party chairman, to follow suit, which is most interesting.

It's no secret that the pair don't see eye to eye. Tien's call-out on Cheung should never surprise anybody, for it was only a matter of time before they clashed - if not over the extradition bill now, it would be something else later.

If it's suggested the two were actually collaborating to find an excuse for Cheung to leave Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheung Yuet-ngor's excessively-heated kitchen at the SAR's most volatile moment since 1997, that would be unconvincing.

First, Tien and Cheung's disagreements date back to the previous Leung Chun-ying administration. Then, Tien led a campaign characterized by the three letters "ABC" - "Anyone but CY."

Cheung openly broke with Tien and accepted CY's invitation to join Exco, the chief executive's de facto cabinet.

Tien is clearly trying to be naughty again, staging a coup to force Cheung out of office. Should the latter comply and resign from Exco, what happens next will most likely be a no-confidence vote on Cheung in the party too.

But what makes Tien's current call-out really interesting is that it's not only aimed at Cheung, but also at shaming former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and ex-Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who are both also Exco members.

It's impossible to prove whether Tien was telling the truth when he claimed that more than half of Exco members disagreed with Lam's plan to ram through the extradition bill. We won't likely hear other Exco members speak up on this because all Exco discussions are confidential.

However, it's logical to expect a government leader to review the cabinet in the event of major breaking incidents.

If Lam had appeared in public instead of staying out of sight, the media would have been able to ask her about this. That said, it shouldn't surprise anyone if she's reviewing her cabinet, for it's only natural for her to do so.

Tien's calls are calculated. As he threw out the three names, he's also raising the Exco question to the forefront.

Immediately, Ip cried foul, while Tong remained as defiant as he possibly could.

To be fair to Ip, she was probably the most enthusiastic Exco member in articulating the government's position, doing a way better job than justice secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah when the latter was supposedly the administration's top legal adviser.

Poor Ip! It would be most unfortunate if she had to go because she already resigned once in 2003 over the setback suffered by the Article 23 bill. Who would have expected history to repeat itself 16 years later?

So will Lam revamp Exco as she searches for a solution to the impasse?

Stay tuned for developments.

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