A meeting of the Legislative Council's House Committee on April 17, 2020. Photo: RTHK

Whoah! When a horse bolts, it grips the bit between its teeth and gallops off, eyes bulging, mane flying, panic-driven, mindless of where it is going or what obstacles it may encounter. Reining it back requires both physical strength and equestrian skill.  

Hong Kong’s current political image is of the bolting horse, except that there is no one in the saddle.

Before the horse suffers irreparable self-harm, measured steps are urgently necessary, first to calm the frightened steed and bring it back under competent control.

Now is not the time for know-it-all onlookers on the sidelines to add to the turmoil.

The current acting chairman of the Hong Kong Legislative Council’s House Committee has only one duty, to oversee the election of a full-time chairman or chairwoman.

For no stated reason, 15 attempts at this election have been obstructed by filibustering. The only inference to be drawn is that the pan-democratic legislators wish to prevent the inevitable election of a pro-Beijing chairman. The relative numbers dictate this inevitability.

Once upon a time, there was cross-party accommodation which enabled the opposing parties to take the chair in turns. Now, however, the art of compromise has been consigned to a landfill.  

But to what end is this obstruction designed? One might speculate that those calling themselves the pan-democrats hope that the upcoming elections will change the balance of representation in Legco. Therefore, delaying election of the House Committee chairman could lead to the post falling to one of their persuasion and stall the passage of the National Anthem Bill.

In the meantime, the legislators are all drawing their handsome salaries and expenses, achieving precious little while vast swaths of the working population have been thrown out of their jobs. 

Was the Liaison Office ever given such an inviting Aunt Sally to shy at?

Should all Hong Kong’s legislators be consigned to the knackers yard?

Irrespective of the Liaison Office’s undoubted unconstitutionality, can we truthfully say that criticism of Legco is unwarranted? 

All bets are off while Hong Kong burns and the inept bunch of bunglers, led by Madam Dysfunctionality herself, seized the opportunity to arrest a group of dissenters from Beijing’s received wisdom, for alleged offenses related to unauthorized protests committed more than six months ago.

The pan-democrat legislators are as ineffective, puerile and directionless as the pro-Beijingers are stubborn, blinkered and hand-in-glove with the rapacious property developers. Truly, these are donkeys.

While they fight and spit at each other like the two cats of Kilkenny, they risk a similar  outcome in that, instead of two systems, there won’t be any. 

Hong Kong is faced with certain fixed parameters: Subject to the terms under which Deng Xiaoping gifted 50 years of a high degree of autonomy, the central government holds the ultimate power; talk of independence is for the cuckoos; the chief executive will always be Beijing’s handmaiden; and the five major landlords have an economic stranglehold over the territory.

Only the last of these factors is amenable to amelioration in the unlikely but not impossible event that the legislators could all line up in the stalls for the same race. 

Undoubtedly, the strength of peaceful protest compelled the incumbent chief executive, Carrie Lam, to bow to the expressed will of the people, albeit far too late and with such pained reluctance.

The dynamic integrity of that protest movement lay in its peacefulness and inclusion of participants from all sectors of society.

The fatal error was to meet violence with violence. 

The character of Hong Kong society metamorphosed from civil order to a confrontation between the populace and the government in the shape of the police force, once Asia’s finest.

Ill-concieved command and control by the senior police officers allowed and probably encouraged a brutally repressive regime that alienated the bulk of the population.

Young hotheads believed, wrongly, that brutality by police officers on the ground justified violent responses. It may be a natural human instinct, you hit me and I’ll hit you back, but that does not legitimize it.

Where were the pan-democratic legislators who should have been counseling non-violent protest? What happens when the stewards leave the racetrack?

And so things spiraled out of control until a non-discriminating viral infection visited itself on a city already in economic disarray, temporarily arresting all activity.

In World War I the troops on each side reached an informal truce at Christmas 1914. Contrary to the wishes of the commanders on each side, the soldiers in the trenches who had been fully occupied in mortal combat reached out to each other. It was a moment when, no matter which side you were on, the men in the front lines saw their opposite numbers as human beings. 

That brief interlude of common humanity was quickly lost when the directing staff on each side prohibited such fraternization with the enemy and the men returned to destroying each other.

One can only speculate on what might have happened had the opposing generals dismounted from their horses and met for a Christmas drink. Is it even possible that the next four years of irrational destruction might have been avoided or would the politicians have insisted on a fight to the bitter end?

That 1914 consensual truce was never repeated, and the depth of bitterness only increased, at the terrible cost of much of the flower of European youth that perished on those battlefields.

For Hong Kong, in some ways Covid-19 represents the temporary suspension of hostilities of Christmas 1914. Both sides are equally apprehensive of the other and there is a deep-seated fear that once the virus has been overcome, there will be a return to violent street protest.

Perhaps because neither the pan-democrats nor the pro-Beijingers have any sense of history, but more probably because they are so blindly committed to their entrenched positions, they are not seizing the opportunity to advance civil society.

Led by Dennis Kwok, the acting chairman of the House Committee, the pan-democratic legislators are filibustering their way through their salaries with no realizable game-plan and Madam Dysfunctionality and her acolytes are sucking-up to the Liaison Office with the mass arrest of leading democratic figures.

In their emulation of the politicians of 1914 they are proving, incontestably, that none of them are fit for purpose.   

So, they are giving the horse its head and the chances are that it will fall at an insurmountable fence, break its legs and have to be put down by a Beijing-appointed veterinary surgeon.

So, at the risk of picking quarrels, now by the bowels of Christ, will you all start not just to talk but to listen to each other, sincerely?

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Neville Sarony QC is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.

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