21 October 2016
Former Legco president Andrew Wong (left) says Chan Kin-por, chairman of the finance committee, has no authority to cut short deliberations. Photos: RTHK, HKEJ
Former Legco president Andrew Wong (left) says Chan Kin-por, chairman of the finance committee, has no authority to cut short deliberations. Photos: RTHK, HKEJ

Taiwan and Hong Kong: A tale of two legislatures

Hong Kong people love to hear news about Taiwan, as shown in their keen interest in the recent elections.

Many of them traveled to the island to witness the historic event, some wanting to see if the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party could translate its agenda of transparent governance into votes.

They were not disappointed. Tsai Ing-wen and her allies crushed their opponents. In May, Taiwan will inaugurate its first female president and a new legislature.

Hongkongers could only wish they had even a semblance of Taiwanese democracy.

The promised democratic election of their next leader in 2017 ended in the ignominious defeat of the election reform bill in June last year after Beijing insisted on pre-screening the candidates.

Subsequent events have undermined the power of the Legislative Council to provide oversight to a heavily executive-led government.

Rubber stamp does not even begin to describe it. Legco is increasingly looking like a government department.   

On Saturday, Legco approved HK$5.4 billion (US$694 million) in additional funding for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge after pro-Beijing loyalists shut down a filibuster by opposition lawmakers who think the project is a waste of money, a potential white elephant.

The only thing that reminded Hongkongers of Taiwan’s robust and sometimes raucous democracy was the sight of establishment allies using their overwhelming numbers to drown out the pan-democrats in a shouting match.

When finance committee chairman Chan Kin-por, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, refused to allow questions on the funding request, the die was cast.

He simply told the chamber to “ignore questions from them… please don’t let the bad guys interfere with [our meeting]“.

Chan, who represents the insurance sector, acted like a gatekeeper for the government, in contravention of the principle of neutrality of his office.

Pan-democrats filed 746 motions on the funding request but Chan slashed them to just 82 for discussion, limiting the scope for a filibuster.

Democrats rose from their seats and confronted Chan but you know what usually happens in instances like this when someone has the big stick, surrounded by security.

Chan shouted them down and called for a “yes” vote on the motion. Funding approved.

In fact, he could well have steamrollered his way through the motion without even calling a vote, simply by telling the chamber that there’s no need for discussion and that the motion has been passed.

That would not have been out of place in a legislature used to getting its way at the behest of the government.

Chan showed he can get his way and remind people who is boss at the same time.

Clearly, the biggest winner was Leung Chun-ying who now can claim credit for the whole thing before his bosses in Beijing.

And the loser? The Hong Kong taxpayer who can only watch as the government continues to take liberties with his money, not having any say in it through his Legco representatives.

Former Legco president Andrew Wong said the chairman of the finance committee has no authority to cut short deliberations, especially on such a contentious issue.

Wong said there should be a change in the way the committee works. He suggested dividing its deliberations into two phases — questions and clarifications and debate.

But Beijing is perfectly comfortable with the present situation which mirrors the way its own legislature, the National People’s Congress, functions – rubber stamping directives from the Communist Party and no challenges to government work reports. 

Can a Hong Kong People’s Congress be far behind?

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EJ Insight writer

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