Pro-establishment lawmakers make a grab for CUHK Council seats
It was former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson who said a week is a long time in politics. But he would have struggled to keep up with what has happened in Hong Kong in just over two weeks.
The list of events that have fought for our attention is staggering – the invalidated oaths taken by some of our newly elected lawmakers, the ruckus over whether Youngspiration duo Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching insulted more than a billion ethnic Chinese across the globe, Leung Yiu-chung’s tragic desertion of his duties in chairing the meeting to elect the new Legco president, unresolved question marks over nationality of said president Andrew Leung and the Chief Executive’s unprecedented decision to apply for a judicial review to challenge Leung’s decision to allow the aforementioned lawmakers to retake their oaths.
And that’s not even counting all the moves, false moves and countermoves being made in the run-up to next year’s Chief Executive election.
Given all this excitement, it’s hardly surprising that some developments with serious, lasting repercussions have received scant attention. Among this was the election of three pro-establishment legislators to the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Council. Not just any three pro-establishment legislators, but three functional constituency lawmakers – two of whom were elected unopposed.
This goes against previous convention where legislators across the political divide agreed to nominate two pro-establishment members and one pan-democrat member. This time the pro-establishment legislators rejected the opposition’s choice, Edward Yiu Chung-yim, a former CUHK professor and decided to make a grab for all three seats, prompting the opposition to respond by fielding four candidates.
Despite winning 55 per cent of the popular vote in the legislative council’s directly elected geographical constituency seats, opposition lawmakers have only 41 per cent of the total number of seats because half of the legislature’s 70 seats are functional constituencies. This means that once the pro-establishment side had decided to make an aggressive push to claim all the CUHK council seats, their numerical advantage made it impossible for the opposition to stop them.
So why did they make the move, especially as they subsequently allowed two pan-democrat lawmakers to be nominated onto a University of Hong Kong advisory body (alongside three pro-establishment legislators)?
Well, this is a high-stakes time for CUHK, which happens to be searching for a new vice-chancellor to replace the respected and popular Joseph Sung Jao-yiu and deliberating on proposals for reforming the composition of the CUHK Council. Student, staff and alumni groups have been calling for greater staff and student representation on the council. They also oppose the Chief Executive’s right to appoint members to the council in his role as university chancellor. In a referendum held earlier this year, staff and students voted overwhelmingly against the Chief Executive holding the position of chancellor.
In contrast, the HKU Court is an advisory body and only one of the five legislators of the body can be nominated to sit on the HKU Council. Given there are three pro-establishment lawmakers and only two pan-democrats, it’s likely that a pro-government legislator will be elected.
I believe most in the CUHK community see council reform as a necessary development, but it should be reform that helps democratize university governance rather than open it up to political interference.