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Published: 00:32, January 20, 2022 | Updated: 10:05, January 20, 2022
'Loyal opposition' rings in new LegCo meeting
By Mark Pinkstone
Published:00:32, January 20, 2022 Updated:10:05, January 20, 2022 By Mark Pinkstone

What the Western observers were expecting of Hong Kong’s first session of its newly elected seventh-term legislature was a boring, rubber-stamping band of noddies agreeing to everything thrown at them by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

But instead, they were treated with fireworks aimed at the chief executive by a small core of loyal opposition members who were determined to prove to the Western media, hostile activists and foreign politicians that they were wrong.

The atmosphere in the legislature chamber was almost akin to the closing sessions of the sixth-term legislature, when the so-called “pan-democrats” did everything in their power to be disruptive throughout the meetings. But it was done with dignity and respect and in an orderly fashion this time.

Political-watchers and the public stood back, totally confused, some in shock and horror as they listened to the traditional “pro-establishment” lawmakers tear into the chief executive over the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it was “riddled with holes”. And Mrs Lam, the chief executive, was repeatedly asked to apologize over the HKSAR government’s quarantine policy for cargo aircrew members, after two Cathay Pacific employees introduced the omicron variant to Hong Kong’s local community.

Lam hit back and dismissed alternative strategies proposed by Election Committee Constituency lawmaker Chan Hoi-yan to keep the virus in check, and she even fired back at Geographical Constituency lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun for what she called his “election” slogan.

“I understand and agree with your attitude of ‘not blindly support or blindly oppose’, but you cannot blindly criticize anti-epidemic officials for not performing their job just because of violation of rules by one individual,” she said, in an apparent reference to the first Cathay Pacific aircrew member who broke quarantine rules.

The inaugural meeting of the seventh-term Legislative Council saw the new makeup for an expanded 90 members (up 20 members from the previous session). But not all members were present as some were still in quarantine after attending a COVID-19-hit party.

Immediately after the new election results were announced in late December, the Western media and foreign governments slammed the electoral process as a “sham” as it allowed only patriots to run for election. They predicted that there would no longer be an opposition to challenge government initiatives. The “pan-democrats” (the de facto opposition) had earlier decided not to field any candidates for election, citing the vagueness of the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

However, the patriotic lawmakers had pointed out during their election campaigns that one did not have to be anti-government to be an “opposition”. They considered themselves watchdogs over government policies and budget spending. In effect, they brand themselves as the “loyal opposition”. In other words, they will endorse government policies as long as they are sound and meet the expectations of the public. And they will also follow up by monitoring their implementation.

As a matter of fact, there were just as many “fireworks” in the constructive exchanges between Mrs Lam and the patriotic new LegCo members as when the belligerent radical politicians held sway in the old chamber with their juvenile antics, disrespectful language and rude behavior while playing to the gallery. Indeed, she was intensively grilled by the new lawmakers about the effectiveness of the HKSAR government’s strategy in suppressing the COVID-19 pandemic and also about current expenditures. The government has been under heavy pressure to relax its current stringent border-control measures to facilitate trade with the Chinese mainland and tourism.

The inaugural meeting for the new Legislative Council was marked with a new-look chamber. The Chinese National Emblem hung above the regional emblem of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region over the LegCo president’s chair. And all members were smartly dressed in suits. No longer are T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops allowed. It is all about respect for the “one country, two systems” foundation upon which Hong Kong is built; for the rule of law, which emanates from the LegCo chamber; and for each other as patriots of Hong Kong.

Mrs Lam opened the Q&A session by proposing a total reshuffling of government bureaus to improve governance and in order for the administration to meet the new challenges arising from future plans for Hong Kong, including the Northern Metropolis region straddling the northern boundary. However, the new-look administration will not come into effect until after the chief executive election in March.

With hostilities removed from the legislature chamber, Mrs Lam expects greater harmony and co-operation between the administration and the LegCo members. She expects some 40 bills will be passed during the current season, hopefully without filibustering tactics, which marred previous legislatures.

Mrs Lam noted that members of the current-term LegCo come from different backgrounds, trades and professions, which reflect their broad representation and political inclusiveness.

Irrespective of whether they were elected through the Election Committee Constituency, Functional Constituencies or Geographical Constituencies, they will reflect the voices of different sectors in society; and despite their differences, they are expected to work in harmony for the well-being of Hong Kong people and the city’s development, she asserted.

The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong government, a media and PR consultant, and a veteran journalist.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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