By Chris Yeung —
July and August in Hong Kong have been dubbed as “silly season” by veteran political journalists for obvious reasons.
With both the decision-making Executive Council and Legislative Council taking summer break, the city’s lackluster political scene grew even more inactive and boring. Taken together with the fading of dissenting voices in the society since 2020, cynics have lamented there are no longer meaningful political news stories. Silliness has hit the political news front harder in summer.
On the face of it, two political controversies that hit headlines last week sounded like a storm in teacup. They are not. The controversies have graphically illustrated the city’s new political ecology under the rule of “patriots ruling Hong Kong”.
At the centre of one of the controversies was Steve Wong, Wong Tai Sin District Officer, a high-flier in the fleet of Administrative Officers who was hand-picked to attend a year-long study placement at Peking University. Pro-establishment associations held a farewell dinner for him on August 24. More than 500 people attended.
As soon as pictures of the dinner hit social media, it caused a stir in the “patriots” circle.
In an intriguing bashing, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying cited the banquet to criticise a recent trend of establishment organisations.
He said on Facebook: “In recent years, this trend of extravagant and wasteful practices among establishment organisations has become increasingly severe and must be curbed. The number of those organisations is growing, and there seems to be endless wining and dining.”
The banquet on Wong, he said, was only “the tip of the iceberg.”
It did not take long for Wong to tender an apology for the perception problem following Leung’s salvos. Chief Executive John Lee said “a lesson was taken,” adding he hoped a “new consensus” could be built between government officials and community organisations regarding their presence at similar events.
The other controversy that erupted on the same day Wong’s farewell banquet turned sour featured a group of 13 legislators, who were keen to show to an audience at a concert they got singing talent without charging a fee.
Four days after they publicised the concert scheduled for September 8, the organiser canceled the show on Tuesday (29/8), saying “it was decided that it is not suitable to hold the event at this time” without elaboration.
The show, dubbed “The Great Voices of Legislative Council”, was organised by a non-profit organisation Blue Planet Action as a National Day celebration.
Eunice Yung, one of the 13, and two colleagues from the New People’s Party, pulled out even before the organiser pulled the plug. She said she hopes the public would focus on their work in Legco.
The farcical end of the now-canceled “Legco Great Voices” show has stoked criticism against the legislature constituted after Beijing revamped the election system in 2021.
A former Federation of Trade Union lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing wrote in a newspaper column the well-intended effort by the central government to reform Legco had been “totally wasted.” He lamented the performance of the new Legco was below expectation and called on members to do soul-searching before it is too late.
Another former legislator, Ronny Tong, who sits on Exco, wrote “Whether Legco members have great voices is not the key point. Legco without voices is most worrying.” He asked: “Is it the (kind of) Legco when it does not have opposition voices?”
Though co-incidental, the blitz of blasts and sharp reminders from pro-establishment figures to their like-minded fellows did not come out of the blue.
Despite raised expectations following Beijing’s revamp of the election system for “improvement”, the new legislature has failed to impress with their performance. Even a weakened media could conveniently tell a story of substandard Legco through such figures as the number of bills passed without an official quorum, not to mention such head-scratching “Legco Great Voices” show.
Revelation about the oddity of the passage of bills by Chinese-language Ming Pao earlier has reportedly prompted the central government’s Liaison Office officials to call up lawmakers to find out what went wrong.
Although the story could not be confirmed, it is only natural and sensible that Beijing could not wait to figure out what happened because they will become the most embarrassing loser if the new Legco ends up a joke, not a help in running Hong Kong.
Set against growing frets about the performance of the new Legco, the dual controversies surrounding a farewell banquet and a concert have sparked rare attacks and counter-attacks from within the patriots’ circle.
They have only themselves to blame for saying yes to an election revamp that gives them easy-win in an election without having to make a good fight for votes and to work hard in Legco to keep their seats in the next election.
No thanks to the system that not just makes them but the brainchild of the system silly.
(This article was first published on Green Bean)