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This week in politics: infighting between CEs

This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week: Infighting between CEs(一周政情:新舊特首爭功 油尖旺圍城;政務職系表忠 利君雅遭殃)

Over the past week, there were three political stories that drew many’s attention. Firstly, former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying advocated that the selection of the next Chief Executive should be conducted by consultation, but Carrie Lam the incumbent CE disagreed. She argued that the election of CE should be maintained since the CE has always been elected since the handover.

The second one is yet another controversial handling by RTHK over its journalist Nabela Qoser, following the relaunch of the investigation, extending her probation for 120 days, and then asking her to sign a short-term contract on the grounds that the investigation had not been completed.

The third one concerns the lockdown of an area in Yau Ma Tei, Jordan and Kwun Chung in the early hours of Saturday (23 Jan), via a government gazette. People within the lockdown area were not allowed to leave until they were tested for virus. The lockdown was later lifted in Monday early hours.

These three development highlighted one common theme: the challenges posed by the Mainlandisation of Hong Kong's governance.

For those who have followed the epidemic, one would notice despite Central Government's repeated calls for Hong Kong to achieve zero infection as soon as possible, and the SAR's tightening of mandatory quarantine measures at the border, there is no sign of getting local infections under control. Dozens or even hundreds of new infections were recorded each and every day, many of which comes from unknown local origin, suggesting the rapid spread of the virus with in the community. This is especially the case in the Yau Tsim Mong area, with poor hygiene in old buildings and dense population. The epidemic seems to be spiralling out of control. Hong Kong people and central government officials could only shake their heads in dismay.

Against such backdrop, those pondering to run for the top job in 2022 will see this as a golden opportunity to launch a political campaign against Carrie Lam, attacking her incompetence over city’s governance and the delay in containing the epidemic before state leaders. Just to create a political status quo warranting a new Chief Executive.

Further, these people will make their case to the Central Government that since the CE has to be replaced, that should follow Beijing's same approach over enacting national security law for Hong Kong, in other words, direct intervention in the governance of Hong Kong, search and arrest anyone purportedly endangering national security, and going tit-for-tat against the Western World. The next Chief Executive, as they would argue, must strengthen the “overall jurisdiction” by “one country” and the Central Authorities as his/her primary policy agenda, in order to justify scrapping Chief Executive’s election via 1200-strong Election Committee (EC).

The pan-democratic camp, together with the industrial and business sector, originally could poise to control more than half of the seats in the EC. Both Leung and Lam received over 600 votes while they were elected, partly because the pan-democrats were not united enough to work strategically against the pro-Beijing camp, partly also owing to the fact that the business sectors sided with Beijing’s blessing. There is no guarantee of strategic alliance between the business sector and the pan-democrats, under the spectre of the National Security Law and the pressure of Western sanctions, which they could have ousted Beijing's preordained candidate by secret ballot. They could have elected a candidate supported by the business sector and the pan-democrats and accepted by the international community, forcing Beijing to return to a softer approach of governance. Beijing would be thrown into a very passive position .

In other words, the Central Government must abolish the EC and select the next Chief Executive by consultation (essentially means appointment), if it agrees to carry on with the current hardline policy and confrontation against the West. Because only that will eliminate all political risks and ensure that the Central Government’s preordained candidate becomes the Chief Executive. It can achieve that by amending the annexes to the Basic Law, given the option of consultation is included in both the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.

How the next Chief Executive will be chosen, therefore, is not only a political tug-of-war between the former and incumbent Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Carrie Lam, or between two persons or two political factions- it’s a struggle between two political front.

This reflects the challenge to Hong Kong governance towards rapid Mainlandisation amid the post-National Security Law era. Even the “small circle” of election among 1200 people, which has long regarded as politically secure, could not be maintained and have to face drastic changes.

However, this is tantamount in showing the world that under Xi Jinping's rule, the degree of democracy in selecting Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has become worse than that in the Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin’s era. In the first election for SAR’s chief executive in 1997, there was a 400-strong Election Committee with at least four candidates contesting. Secret ballots casted, tallied publicly. Stage was fully set. Tung Chee-hwa, handpicked by Jiang Zemin, was elected accordingly. Fast-forwarding to Xi’s era and we may have a consultative selection. How would it not be a disgrace, for the sake of Central Government’s face and authority?

The Central Authorities, after a cost and benefit analysis, could also compromise by stepping up its intervention and manipulating in the process of selecting the Chief Executive. Disobedient EC members could risk disqualified under mechanisms such as declaration of candidacy and oath of allegiance. If necessary, the secret ballots arrangement could be changed in a way to ensure that the EC will implement the will of the Central Authorities, only to continue to gloss over the situation of “choosing the Chief Executive by an election”.

Why did the Qoser incident make the RTHK management look bad again and again? It is because the Central Government's political directive to eliminate disobedient civil servants and to make a case out of them, and has created irreconcilable conflicts with the Hong Kong government's established civil service management. This presents also a similar challenge caused by the rapid Mainlandisation of Hong Kong governance, alongside with the looming overhaul of selecting the Chief Executive.

According to the established management system of the civil service, after three years of service and without any major faults, Qoser should have completed her probationary period and confirmed to be a civil servant on permanent contract. This is the ordinary procedure for all. If Qoser had committed a major wrongdoing, she could have been dismissed through the normal disciplinary procedures.

However, what RTHK is doing is to reopen another investigation over a complaint against her that has already been concluded, thereby requesting an extension of her probationary period for 120 days. This rare practice violates the most fundamental principle of no double jeopardy under the Hong Kong legal system, and is not based on law or contract. Under pressure, Qoser reluctantly agreed to this unfair arrangement.

120 days have almost passed, but the reopened investigation is long overdue. RTHK's senior management confirmed that the delay had nothing to do with Qoser, but could not explain the reason for the delay. RTHK has walked back on its words and again made an extremely unreasonable request for Qoser to sign a short-term employment contract instead. This is tantamount to using administrative tactics to force civil servants to leave without going through the disciplinary process.

Such a despicable political tactic is a complete departure from the long-standing principles of Hong Kong's civil service management system. It reflects that the Deputy Director of Broadcasting, which comes from the Administrative Officer rank, is doing whatever he can to fulfil the political mission given by his superiors and to force out a daring journalist who openly asked the Chief Executive to “talk as human”! If the SAR Government's public broadcaster really cannot tolerate a frontline journalist who dares to speak out, it may as well simply use its power to dismiss her. Why the fuss?

AP file photo

The massive community quarantine has long been a standard practice in the Mainland to prevent and control the spread of the epidemic.

For Hong Kong, this is a major challenge, the SAR Government has no choice but to take risk when the local infection was far from contained. After repeated calls from the pro-establishment camp and the pro-establishment media, the government had to try its chance. The lockdown of Yau Tsim Mong was far from satisfactory.

Why is it so difficult for mandatory quarantine by lockdown? Firstly, the vast majority of Hong Kong people have to go to work to earn a living, and income would be affected if otherwise. If the community is sealed off and no one can get in or out, or to go to work, no compensation will be given by the government if residents lost their jobs. Any lockdown should be planned and executed in great care to avoid damaging people's livelihood.

Secondly, Yau Tsim Mong is a densely populated old neighbourhood with a mix of residential and commercial premises, and there is also a minibus terminus in the area, with a constant flow of people going in and out for various reasons. A blanket lockdown will create a lot of confusion and requires thorough planning, such as the rerouting of transport and the closure of shops.

Thirdly, the planning for the closure of the area involves the deployment of a large number of quarantine staff, a large number of police officers to assist in guarding the area, and support staff to obtain and coordinate supplies to meet the various emergency needs of the residents in the area. With such a large number of staff deployed, it would be very difficult to keep the news from getting out. Once the news gets out, the residents in the area will get wind of the situation and flee, thus undermining the effectiveness of the compulsory quarantine. This is actually SAR government’s Catch-22 in this incident.

Finally, as the closure enroaches the freedom of movement and health of tens of thousands of residents, it is important that the relevant information is released timely and accurately. So the affected residents are aware of the situation and know how to cooperate. The SAR Government has however made a series of mistakes in coordinating the dissemination of information, which was subject of widespread public criticism. It must seriously reflect and learn from this experience.

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