21 October 2016
The fact that the pro-establishment camp forms the majority in the legislature explains why many unpopular bills and funding requests from the administration were able to pass Legco with ease. Photo: HKEJ
The fact that the pro-establishment camp forms the majority in the legislature explains why many unpopular bills and funding requests from the administration were able to pass Legco with ease. Photo: HKEJ

It’s time for the pan-democrats to be a bit more creative

The new legislative year has begun, and the battle between the pan-democrats and the government in the Legislative Council over the funding request for the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau continues to rage.

Neither side has shown any sign of backing down.

To stall the government’s funding request, lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Albert Chan Wai-yip, Chan Chi-chuen and Wong Yuk-man tabled more than a thousand amendments to the government’s bill last week.

However, only 20 of them were accepted as valid by new Financial Committee chairman Chan Kin-por, who said he would allow no more than 110 amendments in total to be put to the vote.

During Friday’s committee meeting, some pan-democratic lawmakers were outraged at the chairman’s decision, and an intense war of words broke out.

Brawls involving four opposition lawmakers ensued in front of the rostrum, and the chairman had to announce a break.

The incident once again illustrates how ridiculous the composition of our legislature is: almost all the positions of chairman and deputy chairman in Legco’s various committees are controlled by pro-establishment lawmakers who got elected through functional constituencies, which are notorious for their low representativeness and low credibility.

Many of these lawmakers are no more than proxies assigned to the legislature by Beijing.

To make matters worse, under the absurd “split voting system”, basically all bills and motions put forward by popularly elected lawmakers are bound to be vetoed even though these bills or motions might receive majority support from the public, because the pro-establishment camp, on the orders of Beijing, will always stand in the way.

As the saying goes, the nays always have it in Legco.

In contrast, however, many controversial and unpopular bills and funding requests tabled by the government in the past were able to pass Legco with ease, thanks to the indiscriminate support of the pro-establishment camp, which holds the majority of seats in the legislature.

To turn things around, all the pan-democrats can resort to is either stirring up public opinion outside the legislature or staging filibusters inside the Legco chamber to stall government bills and gain public sympathy.

However, a filibuster is a desperate measure and a double-edged sword.

It can sometimes backfire, taking its toll on the popularity and approval ratings of the pan-democrats themselves, since while a filibuster might be able to stall a controversial government bill, it might also delay voting on livelihood-related bills or funding requests that affect hundreds of thousands of average citizens.

As Cyd Ho Sau-lan, a Labour Party lawmaker, put it, a filibuster is a device through which the minority in a legislature can buy time and draw public attention to controversial issues without violating the rules of procedure, thereby creating public pressure outside the legislature to force the administration to withdraw its bills or review its policies.

However, the current filibuster over the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau seems to have lost its momentum, and the balance of public opinion is increasingly tilted in favor of the government.

Simply put, it can no longer resonate with the public, and the reason couldn’t be simpler: it is already the fourth time the funding request has been submitted to the Legco Financial Committee, and the pan-democrats are simply running out of reasonable justifications for continuing to block the vote.

To the public, this continued filibuster has become a farce, and it is just getting more and more fed up with the endless squabbles and brawls in our legislature.

An increasing number of people are starting to believe that the pan-democrats are taking everything personally and are being obstructionist just to embarrass Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying rather than to serve the public interest.

As a consequence, public support for filibusters is falling into continuous decline.

The people of Hong Kong are not alone in getting frustrated by partisan gridlock in their legislature.

In fact, it happens in almost every democratic country around the world.

However, unless the pan-democrats stop sticking to filibusters and come up with something more creative in their stand against the pro-establishment camp, chances are they will no longer hold the moral high ground and the public will get increasingly irritated by their meaningless actions, which will bring us absolutely nowhere.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 2.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal

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