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Monday, June 27, 2016, 09:59

2016 election will be crucial: DAB veteran

By Joseph Li

Veteran lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung, who will retire after the current legislative term, talks to Joseph Li about his political career as a legislator of more than 30 years and his predictions on the future of the Legislative Council.

2016 election will be crucial: DAB veteran
Veteran politician Tam Yiu-chung from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) will retire in September after sitting in the Legislative Council for more than 30 years. (Photos by Roy Liu / China Daily)

Tam Yiu-chung, former chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), who first became a lawmaker in 1985, will not be seeking re-election in the September Legislative Council election.

The three other DAB old guards – founding chairman of the DAB and President of the Legislative Council Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, Ip Kwok-him and Chan Kam-lam – will retire too.

“My wife is the person who was happiest after learning of my retirement,” Tam, 67, told China Daily enthusiastically in an exclusive interview. “I know when is the time to go and give a chance to younger people. As I get older, my power of thinking and judgment are not as good as before.”

The party will announce its 2016 LegCo election candidates in mid-July before the nomination period begins. Due to changing circumstances, he expects the DAB will lose two seats in geographical elections as the party prepares a conservative campaign, fielding only one ticket in the Hong Kong Island constituency (versus two tickets in 2012) and two tickets in the New Territories West constituency (versus three tickets in 2012). Tam, however, hopes the DAB could gain an additional seat in the District Council functional constituency, or “super seat”.

For the pro-establishment camp as a whole, he cautiously predicts it can win more than half of the 70 seats to maintain a majority.

It is hard to tell whether the camp can win more seats in the functional constituencies because he envisages very keen competition in professional fields, with candidates from the pro-establishment camp competing with each other.

A crucial election

Tam believes the 2016 LegCo election is a crucial one. The Election Committee and Chief Executive elections will come shortly after, with all the legislators to be ex-officio members of the Election Committee that chooses the Chief Executive.

“During this four-year term, the opposition has wreaked great havoc through filibusters and gross misconduct,” he commented. “I guess that will not worsen in the coming term but I cannot rule out that one or two radical people who get elected will behave outrageously to steal public attention.”

Tam realizes that the opposition camp is unwilling to come to terms with a formal mechanism to end filibusters by agreeing in advance the number of hours to be spent on a motion debate. Instead, they prefer an end to filibusters by the LegCo president on each occasion rather than written rules.

Filibusters have been brought under control after Jasper Tsang set a precedent by stipulating the number of hours during the debate on the 2016-17 Budget.

Yet the opposition may continue to fool around by abusing the quorum bell. “One lawmaker alone can do this simple trick to disrupt meetings and waste time,” he said.

Even pro-establishment lawmakers have often blamed Jasper Tsang for being too lenient to the “pan-democrats”. In Tam’s view, the president needs to be tougher to maintain the discipline and dignity of the legislature and not to let opposition lawmakers to do whatever they want.

In the new legislative term, Tam expects there will be demands to reopen the constitutional reform, alongside such controversial issues as retirement protection, standard working hours and the cancelation of the offsetting mechanism under the Mandatory Provident Fund scheme.

“These will definitely be issues in the Chief Executive race and the core subjects of the election platform of candidates,” he predicted.

Framework to stay

Tam reminded people that the constitutional framework that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress laid down on Aug 31, 2014 will remain valid if the constitutional reform exercise is reintroduced. It is hard to tell whether the “pan-democrats” will veto the reform like they did in 2015.

“If they veto the reform again, they will have to wait for a further four years,” he said. “In fact some of them had wanted to back the reform package last year but they dared not, bending to the huge pressure of the ‘Occupy Central’ forces.

“Some of them may change their mind if they are given guarantees. In my view, it is hard to lower the nomination threshold to a very low level without the framework being implemented.

“Let’s see the LegCo election result. If fewer ‘pan-democrats’ are elected, that means they will have less support of the people and they may become less stubborn,” he argued.

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