Big steps needed to get out of dead end

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Jul 2019

It's been a while since Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor last spoke in public.

The chief executive should have appeared much earlier to respond to criticisms that have fueled social tension, but I'm nevertheless glad she has finally ended her self-imposed isolation in the aftermath of Hong Kong's largest protests.

In her first pre-Executive Council media session in many days, Lam apparently tried to address the protesters' most primary concern - whether the dreaded extradition bill would be resurrected and brought back to the Legislative Council for a fresh attempt once the crisis dies down?

She was stubborn, refusing to use the preferred word "withdraw." But she did give in a bit more, declaring "the bill is dead." While it's curious why Lam was so reluctant to formally withdraw the bill if there's no practical difference, it may have to do with her ego - she would rather see her brainchild being reduced to a corpse than watching it cremated into ashes.

For those who have been speaking out loudly against the bill, they may be pleased to see a "corpse" being left on the table - like at an Irish wake - so that they may continue to prod it to maintain the momentum to keep the movement rolling.

As for others, I suspect some would accept that the bill is already deceased, even though none would understand why Lam has to be so obstinate.

Former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang said the government made a serious error in political judgment and underestimated the public's distrust of the mainland's legal system, to which Lam clearly admitted and pledged to overhaul the public consultation process in future.

That's fine and dandy, but the promise of a new governance style may be too little, too late. Lam needs to take bigger, more visible steps if she wants to be assuring to a populace that's become extremely skeptical of the establishment.

Note the curious words as she responded to a question on amnesty. She said any demand that an amnesty be granted "at this stage" was unacceptable. Is she implying amnesty would be more likely at a later stage when all prosecutions have been heard by the courts? That's certainly something to monitor.

Lam's remarks somehow resembled those of Li. In his opinion piece published by some newspapers, Li said if an amnesty is suggested for protesters, it must be extended to police too.

The similarity left me wondering if the two had been communicating with each other, as the ex-chief justice spoke about the same stuff as Lam - except on the question of ordering an independent inquiry.

Li favored the crisis being probed by an independent commission led by a judge. Lam disagreed, insisting the Independent Police Complaints Council was the preferred platform.

I've little doubt that Lam would have ordered an independent inquiry had the incident been a ferry collision, bus crash or construction scandal at MTR Corp. However, the nature of the current crisis is more political, and it would defy any investigation led by the bureaucracy or former judges.

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