21 April 2019
Amending the Rules of Procedure to ban filibusters is easier said than done. Photo: HKEJ
Amending the Rules of Procedure to ban filibusters is easier said than done. Photo: HKEJ

What is standing in the way of effective government in HK?

In my previous article I raised the point that the government has failed time and again to form a stable and sustainable alliance with the pro-establishment parties in the Legislative Council because the chief executive and these parties represent two sets of conflicting interests.

Another factor that is standing in the way of achieving effective government in Hong Kong is the continued fragmentation of our political spectrum.

Between 1998 and 2012, the number of political parties in our legislature rose from eight to 18.

It would already have been difficult for the government to make deals with eight political parties on particular issues or policy initiatives, let alone 18.

The greater the number of political forces in Legco, the more difficult it is for the administration to meet all their requests, because these forces often represent different and sometimes conflicting interests in society.

It is highly difficult for the government to please one of them without angering another at the same time.

There is also the existing Rules of Procedure of Legco, under which lawmakers can stall government bills by means of filibusters, as was demonstrated in the recent saga of the Medical Council reform bill, during which the administration was caught completely off guard by lawmaker Leung Ka-lau’s dogged perseverance in stonewalling the proposal.

How about amending the Rules of Procedure to ban filibusters? Again, this is easier said than done.

Under the Basic Law, the executive branch has no constitutional power to rewrite the rules of how the legislature is run.

Any proposal to amend the rules has to be tabled by lawmakers themselves.

Unfortunately, under our unique split voting system, any bill or legislative initiative tabled by lawmakers has to gain the majority of the votes in both the functional and geographical constituencies in order to get passed.

As long as the pan-democrats are controlling the geographical constituencies, any attempt to change the Rules of Procedure just simply won’t fly.

The split voting system is originally designed to prevent the passage of bills put forward by anti-government or radical lawmakers.

Unfortunately, the mechanism has turned out to be a double-edged sword and backfired on the government itself.

Unless our chief executive can have more credibility and popular support than the lawmakers in Legco, it is almost for sure that he or she will remain a lame duck leader in the days ahead.

The question is, will Beijing be willing to boost the CE’s credibility by allowing him or her to be elected through a genuine election?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 8.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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