Another stinking stunt slows legislative business

City talk | Jerome Taylor and Su Xinqi 5 Jun 2020

Outnumbered and with the rule book written against them, Hong Kong's pro-democracy lawmakers have embraced rotten plants, red bean cakes, bananas and an array of objects for theatrical stunts inside the chamber.

In the latest event to infuriate the pro-Beijing majority, opposition lawmakers Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People Power (aka Slow Beat from his radio career) and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick threw a foul-smelling fertilizer on the carpet of the Legislative Chamber yesterday.

Chan said the jar of brown liquid represented the "stink" of 1989's Tiananman crackdown. It also forced legislators to leave the chamber as the mess was cleaned up, delaying a vote on the bill to criminalize insulting the national anthem.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp argues that such stunts - coupled with procedural delays like filibustering - are the only way to voice opposition inside a chamber weighted in favor of pro-Beijing leaders.

Opponents condemn the actions, saying such disruptions paralyze the council. Tensions between the camps regularly boil over, with fights and noisy shouting matches.

Legislative disruption was part of the justification Beijing gave last month when it announced plans to impose a national security law that bypasses the legislature entirely - a move that has sparked alarm.

Ahead of the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was promised some liberties and autonomy for 50 years. The legislature was part of that deal, but it was designed to ensure pro-democrats never held sway.

Only half of the chamber's 70 seats are elected. The rest are chosen by "functional constituencies" - special interest groups representing industries, corporations, professions and community organizations that mostly vote for pro-Beijing candidates.

So the minority of opposition lawmakers have long resorted to disruption and protests. The national anthem law - which will punish insults to China's March of the Volunteers anthem with up to three years in prison - is the latest bill to spark chaos inside the legislature.

The pro-democracy camp used filibusters for months to stop it reaching the floor with fights between rival camps breaking out.

Last week, a legislator threw a rotten plant at the legislature's president in protest.

Another object thrown by the opposition is dorayaki, a Japanese cake made with red bean.

The popular Japanese cartoon character Doraemon uses the cakes to get people to tell the truth. As a result some Hong Kong legislators use dorayaki as a way to accuse their rivals of lying.

Other symbols have required less explanation.

In 2008, a banana was thrown at the chief executive in protest at cuts to allowances for the elderly as opponents warned the poorest wouldn't be able to afford fresh fruit.

Protests in the legislature have also sparked constitutional crises.

In 2016, a group of newly elected opposition lawmakers deliberately fluffed their oath-taking or held protest banners. That prompted Beijing to declare the oaths invalid and the lawmakers were kicked out of office by the courts.

Hong Kong's penchant for hurling symbolic objects exists outside of the legislature as well.

In 2013, a protester threw a cuddly wolf teddy bear bought from Ikea at then leader Leung Chun-ying.

Leung was dubbed a "wolf" because his family name is similar to "wolf" in Chinese, and critics disliked his political cunning. The name

Ikea had given the stuffed toy also sounded close to an expletive in Cantonese.

The toy swiftly sold out at Ikea branches.


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