Letter to Hong Kong
by Emily Lau of The Frontier
Broadcast on Radio 3 of RTHK on 5 December 1999

Last week was an awful week for democracy and the rule of law. Many pro-democracy candidates were defeated in the district council election held on 28 November. On 2 December, the Legislative Council endorsed a proposal by the executive authorities to abolish the two Municipal Councils.

On the following day, 3 December, the Court of Final Appeal upheld the National People¡¦s Congress Standing Committee¡¦s right to overrule Hong Kong judges on cases relating to the Basic Law. The court also ruled that local courts have a duty to follow the NPC¡¦s re-interpretation of the Basic Law.

 The week started off badly with the lacklustre performance of some pro-democracy candidates in the district council election. As the votes were being counted, pro-democracy activists were shaken by the apparent surge in support for pro-Beijing candidates. Careful analysis is required to find out the reasons for the pro-communist camp¡¦s success.

Four days after the district council election, the Legislative Council gave the green light to a Government proposal to abolish the Urban Council and Regional Council at the end of this month. The decision, endorsed by the narrowest of margin, gave the green light to getting rid of 100 councillors.

 The decision to exterminate the two councils is a big blow to the people¡¦s right to participate in public affairs.  The issue was raised at a recent hearing of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and the Committee called on the SAR Government to reconsider its position.  Unfortunately, the recommendation fell on deaf ears.

The abolition of two Municipal Councils and the reconstitution of the district councils to include appointed members are backward steps in democracy.  They are part of the Chief Executive, Mr C.H. Tung¡¦s plan to depoliticise Hong Kong. This includes getting rid of as many elected politicians as possible and emsuring that the administration of Hong Kong is left to the Chief Executive, a handful of senior bureaucrats and some handpicked business people.

 The proposal to abolish the two Municipal Councils is an example of highhandedness and contempt for public opinion. There was no proper public consultation.  Although most opinion polls showed the majority of the respondents do not support such a move, the Tung Administration insists there is a consensus on abolition.  Such shameless misrepresentation is deplorable.

 Given the Tung Administration¡¦s influence over many legislators, the Legislative Council¡¦s endorsement of abolition has long been taken for granted. However that did not ensure smooth passage of the Provision of Municipal Services (Reorganization) Bill, the vehicle for abolishing the two councils.

   During the Legco debate, to the Administration¡¦s horror, there were not enough votes to support the second reading of the bill.  Thus there was a real danger that the bill would be voted down.  The pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), came to Mr Tung¡¦s rescue by sacrificing its own credibility and integrity.

The DAB has publicly stated it is against abolition.  However in order to save the bill, the DAB made an aboutface and offered to support the second reading, while insisting it would vote against the bill at third reading.

 Such a U-turn showed the skills of a political contortionist but cut little ice with members of the public, many of whom were shocked and disgusted by such antics. The DAB¡¦s aboutface caused a huge row and overshadowed a similar U-turn by the Liberal Party. If politicians behave in such an appalling and disgraceful manner, is it surprising that people look upon them with contempt?

 After the defeat in the district council election, some pro-democracy candidates blamed it on a shift in public sentiment.  A few candidates even accused their political parties of adhering too much to principle.  They said the pro-democracy movement¡¦s principled stance on the mainland people¡¦s right of abode in Hong Kong, opposition to the Government¡¦s $120 billion intervention in the stock market and reservation on the Disneyland project were all vote losers.

  I am aware that some Hong Kong people are opposed to giving the right of abode to Hong Kong people¡¦s children born on the Mainland.  I also understand some people approve of the stock market intervention because share prices have risen.  This is a classical case of the end justifying the means.  I also appreciate that some people regard the Disneyland project as a life saver, offering a glimmer of hope on the gloomy economic horizon.

 The Frontier recognise that our decisions may not be popular with some people, but that does not mean we should abandon our principles in order to win votes. Furthermore, I am confident that most voters are rational people who take into account the overall performance of a candidate and his party when deciding how to vote.  Experience has shown that voters prefer candidates with a proven track record in the constituency.

 Compared with the pro-Beijing parties, the pro-democracy lobby does not have as much money and organizational support. But this is nothing new. As the opponents get better organized and well funded, we just have to work much harder.  However I reject suggestions that we offer free meals, organise trips to the Mainland at discounted prices in order to win the people¡¦s hearts and minds.  This is an insult to the Hong Kong people¡¦s intelligence.

  In spite of concern that the right of abode issue could be a vote loser, we must have the courage to continue to speak our mind.  I am deeply disappointed with the Court of Final Appeal¡¦s judgment, which undermines judical independence and the SAR¡¦s power of final adjudication. It is also a negation of the CFA¡¦s assertion of its own jurisdiction and authority, an assertion made so eloquently in the judgment on the 29 January.

 As we look to the future, there are dark clouds on the horizon in relation to democracy and the rule of law.  Such negative developments have long been anticipated and the pro-democracy lobby should not be disillusioned.  We must redouble our resolve and stick firmly to our principles as we continue our struggle in the new millennium.