Numbers count - especially in Legco

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Jun 2019

The turnout for yesterday's protest march against the proposed extradition bill was enormous. But is it big enough to stop the bill that, after passage, would allow the SAR to hand over fugitives and wanted people to places, especially the mainland?

I doubt that history will repeat itself easily.

In 2003, the administration of the day aborted a plan to enact a national security law, after 500,000 people demonstrated against it.

The plan was shelved not because of the number of people joining the protests, but due to a rebellion by the Liberal Party that denied the government of the votes needed to pass the bill by an overwhelming two-thirds majority.

It always boils down to a game of numbers. As long as the current administration is confident it has sufficient votes to pass the extradition bill - a simple majority in the Legislative Council this time - the second and third readings will proceed as planned.

Barring a last-minute change of heart in Beijing, the bill would mostly likely be passed into law before July 1.

Will Beijing have a change of heart? Let's hope so.

In 2003, police estimated 150,000 people had turned out for the march, less than one third of the figure cited by protest organizers. Likewise, yesterday's turnout will continue to be a subject of debate.

Nonetheless, however played up by the Civil Human Rights Front - or down by police - yesterday's attendance of hundreds of thousands was truly enormous. It's safe to say it was the largest since 2003, and more than a forceful slap in the face of the current administration.

If it has been Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's concern that rolling back the bill would weaken governance, the flip side would be the moral authority without which governance is also set to be weakened.

The huge turnout threatens that moral authority.

Lam's senior ministers like Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and security secretary John Lee Ka-chiu blamed the community for misunderstanding the bill. Maybe they were right, but the problem is that the bill has touched off the public's deep-seated fears of communism.

Even if the legislation was well-motivated, it was poorly conceived and introduced. Is it really so necessary to change the well-established status quo? Is there a higher consideration than rendering a murder suspect to Taiwan? The stated benefits of the bill just don't justify the costs Hong Kong now faces.

To allay the fears, the administration has been making concessions to water down the bill, to narrow the scope of impact to only crimes carrying a sentence of at least seven years. It's clear that those concessions haven't yet removed the deep-seated fears.

Meanwhile, it's regrettable that a serving high court judge has signed a petition launched by the University of Hong Kong Alumni Concern Group to oppose the bill.

Although the bill is definitely poorly conceived, it's improper for an incumbent judge to state his or her views outside the courtroom. While I'm sure judges will continue to base their rulings on evidence only, it's important to protect the moral authority that comes with the office.

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