Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam at a question and answer session at the legislative council in Hong Kong on October 17 2019. Picture: AFP/PHILIP FONG
Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam at a question and answer session at the legislative council in Hong Kong on October 17 2019. Picture: AFP/PHILIP FONG

Hong Kong — Hong Kong’s legislature was interrupted for the second consecutive day as pro-democracy law makers shouted down CEO Carrie Lam, a day after their protests forced her to deliver her annual policy address by video.

About a dozen opposition MPs were dragged from the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) by security staff on Thursday for raising noisy objections. The ejected legislators shouted at Lam and waved placards that showed the CEO with blood on her hands from recent violent protests in the financial hub.

The body’s president suspended the session twice, but the opposition’s disruptions resumed with the proceedings. When the session was eventually adjourned — with only three questions asked by friendly, pro-establishment law makers — the opposition politicians hounded Lam out of the chamber, yelling at her.

Policy gridlock

The pro-democracy bloc only comprises about one-third of law makers, but the displays this week showed they have the ability to delay or even shut down debate on major economic initiatives, even if they don’t have the votes. That spells even more trouble ahead for an economy sliding into recession as protests against Beijing’s grip over the city grow increasingly violent.

A day earlier, agitating law makers used a projector to shine the protest slogan “Five Demands, Not One Less” onto her face, with Lam repeatedly pausing as she tried to deliver her policy address in LegCo. Finally, she gave up and delivered her address, which normally details economic priorities, via video instead.

“If she fails to respond to the five demands, it would be a fantasy to expect normal business to resume in LegCo” said Alvin Yeung, a pro-democracy law maker who participated in the disruption, on Wednesday. “All of these livelihood issues — she could have introduced them a year ago. She’s trying to compete for popularity. She’s trying to win over people’s hearts. But this is doomed to fail without any legitimacy.”

[Carrie Lam] repeated her opposition to the remaining demands, ruling out an amnesty for protesters, an independent inquiry, and the ability for Hong Kongers to pick and elect their own leaders

In her address, Lam pledged to make housing more affordable and promised cash handouts for students, many of whom have been on the front lines of demonstrations that have spurred regular clashes with police over the past four months.

They were among some 200 initiatives aimed at easing some of the discontent that has fueled the protests, but she’ll have a hard time implementing them as well as a $2.4bn stimulus package announced in August without the support of law makers.

“Many of these measures cannot be implemented without funding approval from LegCo,” James Lau, acting financial secretary, said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday, referring to the stimulus. A backlog of projects worth more than HK$70bn ($8.9bn) and involving about 14,000 jobs is awaiting approval by the finance committee, Lau said.

More than 50 legislative proposals are currently awaiting action, according to an October 16 meeting agenda. While some deal with mundane administrative issues — fees on karaoke parlours and bus route schedules — others include deliberations on a face-mask ban implemented under a colonial-era emergency law and the official withdrawal of the extradition bill that sparked the protests.

“We’ve already suffered from delays in many, many discussions,” said Iris Pang, economist with ING Bank in Hong Kong. “I have no idea when those policies in the policy address can really be discussed or passed in LegCo. This is a big question mark I think every Hong Kong person has in mind now.”

Regina Ip, a member of Lam’s advisory executive council, said it is still possible to push things through despite the “disgraceful” interruptions by opposition law makers. Certain measures announced in the policy address that don’t require new funding — including relaxed mortgage rules for first-time home buyers and land requisition for new housing — could be implemented without law maker approval, she said.

Still, Ip said the blame for inaction would lie with the opposition law makers if they don’t let meetings proceed as planned. “What they’re doing is very destructive, very hurtful to Hong Kong.” 

The dramatic events in Hong Kong’s legislature this week came after some of the most chaotic protests in Hong Kong’s modern history. Violence escalated significantly at rallies to mark China’s October 1 National Day and on the weekend following Lam’s decision to invoke a colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance last used in 1967.

Disrupted agenda

Lam said on Wednesday that the violence had damaged Hong Kong’s reputation and appealed for calm without making any new proposals. She repeated her opposition to the remaining demands, ruling out an amnesty for protesters, an independent inquiry, and the ability for Hong Kongers to pick and elect their own leaders.

Part of her problem is that the current impasse requires a political solution rather than economic measures, said Chung Kim Wah, director of the Centre for Social Policy studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

“This kind of economic approach to try to pacify young people isn’t going to be effective right now because Hong Kong people are angry,” he said. “If we don’t work something out on the political system and the government doesn’t admit that the current political structure has played a role in the recent turmoil, Carrie Lam’s proposed policies and any new proposed legislation isn’t going to settle the anger.”

Bloomberg

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