Hong Kong: Extradition bill backlash may cripple legislature

Hong Kong: Extradition bill backlash may cripple legislature

Hong Kong’s embattled government is working behind the scenes to save face under the threat of business being paralysed in the legislature after it was forced to suspend its controversial extradition bill amid mass protests and violent clashes on the streets.

While protesters said yesterday that they were ready to besiege government headquarters again today, both opposition and pro-establishment lawmakers were expecting little to be achieved in the Legislative Council over the next few months.

Highlighting the issue, the government’s Administrative Wing notified civil servants that headquarters would be closed today for security reasons.

The Transport and Housing Bureau appeared to be the first victim of collateral damage, with a source revealing that officials had tried to lobby opposition pan-democrat lawmakers to save them from embarrassment over funding for a controversial residential project, as they feared their political allies might not be supportive.

The possibility of a cabinet reshuffle has also been raised, with Anna Wu Hung-yuk, a former member of the Executive Council, telling that Chief Executive Carrie Lam should consider appointing new advisers to embrace a wider spectrum of views.

“Given the inadequate political representation and imbalance in political franchise as of now, the one basic form of accountability of the chief executive and the government is to listen attentively to the views of the public and to demonstrate that it will respond to the public positively,” Wu said.

Lam was forced to offer a personal apology to the public over her mishandling of the bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which the city does not have an extradition deal.

Her decision to suspend the bill in the face of mass protests failed to pacify opponents demanding its complete withdrawal, and also upset pro-establishment lawmakers who felt betrayed by her U-turn after they were asked to support it in public.

A pan-democratic politician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that transport and housing officials had lobbied them to support the funding request for the public housing development project in Wang Chau, fearing that some pro-establishment lawmakers would stage a no-show at Legco’s finance committee meeting today.

“It is awkward for the bureau to lobby us, as of course we will oppose the project,” the source said, referring to the housing plan that has sparked allegations of collusion between the government, landlords and developers.

“He then asked us not to attend the meeting so that the ‘no’ votes would not outnumber the ‘yes’ votes. It appears they have not secured sufficient votes from their allies.”

While pan-democrats warned of paralysis unless the government scraps the extradition bill, Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan expected little work to be done until the district council elections in November.

Veteran politician Allen Lee Peng-fei and Shi Yinhong, an academic at Renmin University in Beijing and a key adviser to the central government, said Lam was now running a lame-duck administration but Beijing would not allow her to quit.

Anna Wu, chairperson of the Competition Commission, also suggested Lam appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of police brutality during the clashes with protesters near government headquarters and the Legco building last Wednesday.

“If the issue is not defused very quickly, I think the chief executive will be vulnerable to stepping down before her term ends,” Wu said.

In response to Wu’s call for a cabinet reshuffle, executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the question was more about “how to do it to add value, and where to get more capable people to add value”.

The government has already reshuffled its Legco agenda to postpone scrutiny of the sensitive national anthem bill and a contentious funding request to get started on the plan to build artificial islands off Lantau.

A government source said the fallout from the extradition bill controversy would definitely have an impact on the mega project, and the administration was still directionless on how to proceed with another land supply policy seeking to tap into developers’ farmland reserves.

Student groups looked set to besiege the legislature and administrative headquarters today after Lam did not meet their Thursday deadline to address their grievances.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung called for understanding among students and youth in a letter to pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao on Thursday – a move mocked by the pan-democrats as detached and out of touch.

South China Morning Post

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