Participating in the upcoming extended term of the legislative council is, I feel, the lesser of two evils. Of course the one-year postponement of the election which should have been held this month was an anti-democratic trick by the government to avoid facing the voters. The extended term surely lacks legitimacy in the public eye.
However with liberal and democratic institutions being constantly undermined by an executive seeking to bring the other arms of government under its control, we must take every opportunity to voice our concerns, use every forum to fight back in the interests of Hong Kong’s governance, and the promises enshrined in the Basic Law.
Of course previously I’ve had my reservations about staying on, as it would mean accepting a quasi Beijing appointment in an un-elected legislature, ie without the people’s mandate. I’ve had my moments of a psychic tug-of-war.
It’s also understood that many of our young view some of the veterans in the democratic camp as washouts, that they belong to an earlier civilisation and should have been “outed” anyway. Some online criticism would go as far as, and I quote, “Can’t let go of the pay and the glory associated with a Legco seat, can you? Like you are being thrown a bone, a bone only but you can’t wait to go get it”.
Amongst the democrats I’m probably, probably, the one with the least political baggage: The fact that I do not have a political party background; that I’m not young and as a result I wouldn’t need to worry too much about career development or prospects. And so perhaps I am more able to consider the “stay or quit” question with an even more free mind.
What’s happened is the number of pro-democracy legislators has already been thinned by legal manoeuvres to oust elected members. But we can perhaps muster just enough votes to deny the pro-government camp absolute control over the council.
Unrepresentative though it is, the council often is not just a talking shop and rubber stamp. It does have some ability to query officials, demand information and make constructive criticism of government proposals and policies. Even when the criticism is not particularly constructive, or some would even call it destructive, it could at least help vent public anger and frustration.
We need opposition voice to at least better health policy, labour rights, pollution, education and public transport problems.
Between now and next September we should be able to show Hongkongers that we can be of value in fighting for their interests. Although the system remains heavily weighted against us, the legislature remains a place where we can stand up, on the spot, against the arrogance and incompetence of the administration.
We don’t just make noise, we carry on to serve as the voice of the people. We shouldn’t become outsiders looking in. We need feet on the ground.
Sure we could be running into a storm without even an umbrella. Things could get painful. It’s so much easier to quit. But to quit would just be taking a placebo line. We cannot pretend the pain is not there, we just need to deal with it, fight it.
The lawmaker capacity does carry a degree of power. Once I called the agriculture and fisheries department, demanding to speak to the department head, saying it’s a matter of utter emergency. What was happening that day was a government wild pig hunting team armed with Remington's was scheduled to go to a village, provoking an unnecessary but possible violent standoff between villagers and animal rights campaigners.
My little intervention was successful. The AFCD head heeded and cancelled the hunting mission that day. And thanks to joint efforts on the civil society and Legco fronts such wild boar hunting squads have now been scrapped altogether.
Another episode that has been lodged in my head involved what happened on August 31 last year.
Speculation was rife that there were fatalities inside the Prince Edward MTR station that evening, at the peak of our protest movement. I made a number of official enquiries and subsequently managed to have a face-to-face meet-up with the fire services chief.
Although in the end neither the police nor the fire department could satisfactorily explain the discrepancies in the number of injured and the state of injuries, at the time it was the only way to prompt —- if not force —- the civil servants involved to do their explaining in public, to the media.
It’s experiences of the kind that help to solidify my opinion that democrats should remain on the inside. Because of what we do, a lot of incompetence and hypocrisy, sometimes even some crookedness get exposed.
Beijing loyalists and the pro-government type would keep on politely tip-toeing around issues so as not to offend the authorities, they would keep on spinning mistruths, the democrats can counter that performance.
At a time when Hong Kong is politically, financially going down the tubes, with our young in particular feeling helpless, at a time when hope seems to be dismissed and punishment dealt, when discontent could morph into pure hate and antipathy to the government, democrats should help by not abandoning any battleline.
Anyone who wants to query government policies, draw attention to abuses, obtain information now faces increasing difficulties.
Assembly is restricted. People have to guard their words. Much mainstream media simply reflect official policies and journalists now have to be approved by the police to be treated as such. However inadequate it may be, the legislative council remains a forum for questions and comment, and is widely reported.
And popularly elected legislators in particular have standing which cannot be ignored at home, and they are also focus of foreign inquiry about Hong Kong issues. Journalistic institutions magnify the impact of such individuals who would otherwise find themselves crying in the wilderness, lone voices without a platform. Legco is a platform, however shaky.
If results of an opinion poll —-expected by Tuesday —-commissioned by the Democratic Party tell us to go —- easy, we’ll just pack up.
But Im hoping for the opposite. I for one would want to keep staying on the Legco frontline, standing up for what I believe. Nothing egotistical about it. We will simply take what's left and fight it out.
I’m prepared to take the lesser evil.