David Wong notes that four legislators were clearly at fault — their colleagues can accept Carrie Lam’s olive branch, or continue throwing spanners in the works
Last Friday the High Court, in a landmark ruling, stripped four opposition lawmakers of their Legislative Council seats for improper oath-taking. In a dramatic series of events, Leung Kwokhung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chungyim were disqualified by the court at about 3 pm while they were attending a Finance Committee meeting in LegCo. Needless to say, other opposition lawmakers were shocked and emotional.
The court ruling was initiated by the previous administration against the improper conduct of several legislators during their oath-taking ceremony last year. The judge ruled that it is a constitutional and legal requirement that the oath-taker, in taking the oath, must also sincerely and truly believe in the pledges under the oath he or she is taking. In other words, the oath-taking process must be done strictly by the book and nothing can be added or changed before, during or after speaking the oath. In the written judgment, it was stated, in essence, that there is an objective standard for the behavior of oath-takers. It listed in detail all the actions and wordings of each of the legislators concerned and how they deviated from the official oath and, thus, led to a breach of the oath-taking law. The judge explained his argument very clearly and logically and I believe anyone interested in the ruling would find it worthwhile to read the written judgment in full. From a layman’s point of view, anyone who has seen the video recording of the swearing-in ceremony would no doubt conclude that the four members did not mean what they said and tried to amend and add contents to the wording to publicize their political views.
After all, the whole purpose of their theatrics was to ensure that every one of their supporters understands unambiguously what they were trying to do.
Obviously, the community’s views on this ruling are mixed. Some rejoiced at the chance to punish those who disrespect our country, others were angry that the court disqualified their elected representatives. However, it was noteworthy that this ruling has caught the opposition camp off guard and they were unsure how to react to it. In the afternoon following the ruling, they held a press conference vowing to appeal in the courts and declared they would not continue “business as usual” in the legislature anymore, whatever that means. Regardless of the ruling, the opposition has long been trying to filibuster any major government bills and funding applications. They kept asking repetitive and meaningless questions in an attempt to delay legislative procedures. As a result, few bills have passed and there is a huge backlog of items at the Finance Committee, such as new funding for education, improving healthcare and construction of new towns. If such behavior was already “business as usual”, I wonder what they might try to do next, maybe grind the legislature to a complete halt?
Moreover, the opposition keeps on accusing the government of political oppression and rewriting election results. Yet, they conveniently omit the fact that previous local court ruling in 2004, prior to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s interpretation, has reiterated that members must comply with the legal requirement accurately and completely, as well as to read the oath prescribed by law. Since the rule of law is such an important core value of Hong Kong, the opposition dare not publicly criticize the judge or his ruling. However, their actions speak louder than words. Despite the fact that the judge issued an injunction order forbidding the four people from exercising the rights of legislative members, such as attending council or committee meetings, they, with the help of other opposition members, tried to force their way into the conference room on Saturday. As the LegCo president has said publicly, these actions may be regarded as contempt of court.
From a political point of view, it is expected the opposition parties need to take drastic action to appease the hardliners within their factions. Unfortunately, that would go against the courageous efforts by the new chief executive, in accordance with the spirit of President Xi Jinping’s speech on July 1, to actively engage with the opposition by seeking broad common ground while setting aside major differences. Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor used very mild words when commenting on the ruling and restated that she had no intention to file additional court cases.
This ruling would no doubt create additional obstacles to reducing polarization and building a harmonious society. The government has extended the olive branch, it is now up to the opposition to calm down and decide whether to accept it.
The government has extended the olive branch, it is now up to the opposition to calm down and decide whether to accept it.
David Wong The author is an executive member of the New People’s Party and a former civil servant.