CY legacy blows apart Carrie dreams

Editorial | 17 Jul 2017

A political bomb planted by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying has blown apart his successor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's harmonious start to her new regime.

Lam's olive branch to her opponents - extended in the form of multibillion- dollar educational funding - fell victim immediately. For proceedings on HK$3.6 billion of the HK$5 billion pledged, which should have been passed swiftly by the Finance Committee late last week, were adjourned after the High Court ruled to disqualify four pro- democracy lawmakers.

Including two others disqualified earlier, that makes six.

Now, even Professional Teachers Union lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen will not dare ask his peers to approve the funding request so it's highly unlikely the Finance Committee will back it this week.

The court verdict is a game changer, and the situation is so volatile it can evolve in every direction.

Not only will the lawmakers - "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, Edward Yiu Chung-yim, and Nathan Law Kwun-chung - be removed if Friday's ruling is upheld at the end of an expected appeal, gone immediately is the opposition's control of the geographical constituency half of the Legislative Council.

But it doesn't stop there. This month, the High Court is set to hear another case against two more pan- democrats - Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Cheng Chung-tai - again over their oaths. Although this case wasn't raised by the CY administration, but a member of the public, the potential consequences are the same.

If Chu and Cheng are also disqualified, will the loss of the eight lawmakers endanger the one-third-minority veto power held by the pro-democracy camp? If even that limited veto is lost, the opposition will be powerless over any major legislation - including the dreaded Basic Law Article 23 on subversion - that requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

What's happened is a landslide setback for the opposition, and the public voters who put them in office.

The pan-democrats should be able to recover most of the seats in the resulting by-elections, but it's unlikely they can win them all, as some seats will be lost to the establishment due to the proportional representation electoral system.

It would be naive to expect the pro- Beijing camp to stand still and not change the standing orders to ban filibustering in the chamber. By the time the pan-dems mount a comeback in the by-elections, it will be too late to stop the changes that will put the political game in Legco on a footing of completely new rules.

The court verdicts have opened up a Pandora's Box for Lam, who has barely warmed the CE's chair. Already facing her is a major test of her political skills, bearing in mind she had pledged to improve executive-legislative ties.

What can she do to contain the devastating damage caused by the political bomb? By the instincts of a seasoned public administrator, she's emphasized she has no plan to challenge the status of other opposition lawmakers. But she stopped short of closing the door completely to such a possibility.

Lam clearly needs time to assess the situation and implications inside or outside the legislature. She must know that even if she doesn't follow CY's example in picking on other lawmakers to disqualify, she has no control over his supporters. If the latest verdict is eventually upheld to become a precedent, it will be easier for others to stage new challenges.

Perhaps the best Lam can do is to avoid further aggravating the situation, although her dream of improved executive-legislative ties will remain just that - a dream.

As the pro-democracy lawmakers criticize Beijing, they should also blame themselves for the dire situation they now find themselves in.

Had they not resorted to meaningless theatrics in their oath-taking, they wouldn't have given their opponents the opportunity to knock them off, one by one.

As the High Court told them in essence: "You, sir, are the author of your own misfortune."

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