The Incredibly Shrinking Minister
Last year five members of the pan democratic camp did a very foolish
thing. They resigned their LegCo seats to force by-elections and create what
they hoped would be seen as a "referendum" on political reform.
The move flopped disastrously when the government came up with the
perfect response: ignore the whole thing and let the public see the manoeuvre
for the childish game it is.
Fortunately for the reform camp, the government later came up with
some political mis-steps of its own so the negative impact on the famous five's
reputation was reduced.
But having won this particular PR battle, our Minister for Constitutional
and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam seems determined to lose the war. He has
now wheeled out a reform package which would scrap the need for by-
elections in future instances where vacancies arise mid-term for whatever
reason. In such cases the replacement will be found by looking at the person
who secured the next highest number of votes.
The new arrangements will apply only to the most democratically
elected of our LegCo Members, that is the 35 to be elected through the
geographical constituencies plus the 5 to be elected via the new super
Functional Constituencies, all by proportional representation.
The proposed arrangements are unreasonable and unfair. And unlike
those schemes in other countries which try to dispense with the need for by-
elections, there is no attempt to fill the vacant seat with someone from the
same political persuasion, so they are manifestly undemocratic. More
important they are unnecessary, and there are better ways of addressing the
For example, a Member resigning could be precluded from standing in
the subsequent by-election and obliged to wait until the next general election.
He could not plausibly argue that he was being denied the right to stand for
office, because he would have voluntarily stepped down from the office of his
own free will while holding it.
The Government is justifying its undemocratic plans on the grounds that
it would prevent future "referendum-type" exercises thereby saving public
funds (It claims $120 million had to be spent in 2010). This from a Government
that has wasted $5 billion on the unloved Community Care Fund and has
decided to spray around $6,000 per head totally unnecessarily in a kneejerk
response to unfavourable comments about the draft Budget.
The administration is presumably encouraged to think it can implement
this dreadful scheme by riding the public wave of discontent over the 2010
exercise which most people saw as a complete waste of time and money.
But therein lays the paradox: members of the public do not need the
government to act on their behalf to deter foolish acts by legislators. They are
well capable of exacting their own punishment at the ballot box next time
around. And if the public chooses not to impose that sanction, then ipso facto
the public did not see the by-election as unnecessary.
The Government's proposal constitutes at best overkill, taking a
sledgehammer to crack a nut. At worst it is an immature revenge being
exacted by those embarrassed at being obliged to organize the by-elections
last time round.
When young children throw a tantrum, they have a tendency to throw
their toys out of the cot (or pram) as far as they can. So when we see adults
losing their temper and doing something irrational we use the same terms to
describe their behaviour.
Minister Lam seems to be saying to the pan democrats "You have acted
in a childish way, but I can throw the toys even further than you."
So you can, Stephen, and no doubt your Mum is very proud of you.
But those of us paying you over $3 million per year for responsible
leadership on political development can be excused for feeling shortchanged.