Date
24 March 2017
Filibustering and the veto power by opposition forces are the only means this government can be forced to submit good laws and withdraw bad ones.Photo: HKEJ
Filibustering and the veto power by opposition forces are the only means this government can be forced to submit good laws and withdraw bad ones.Photo: HKEJ

Why filibustering is important for Hong Kong

Sure enough, CY Leung wasted no time harping on a report by Moody’s Investors Service to point out the evils of filibustering.

Mouthing the report to the media, Leung warned of slow and inefficient policymaking if filibusters bog down the work of the government.

And noting that some filibustering lawmakers were ousted in the recent Legco elections, he said he hopes the newly elected legislators will not participate in such actions.

Good luck to him.

Filibusters are not about simply tying down the government, as he well knows. They’re about frustrations and concerns the government is not listening enough to the people’s representatives.

The problem is exacerbated by Leung’s inability to communicate with Legco, preferring instead to ram his proposals through the chamber through his built-in majority — all thanks to the establishment camp which controls 40 votes.

Filibustering and the veto power by opposition forces are the only means this government can be forced to submit good laws and withdraw bad ones.

Which is why the election result which saw anti-establishment candidates win 30 seats to the pro-establishment’s 40 is gravely important.

Two members of the core group of filibusterers — Gary Fan and Wong Yuk-man — lost in the election but Leung Kwok-hung and Ray Chan made it.

In addition, Hong Kong people sent six young, fresh faces to Legco, including former student activist Nathan Law and village champion Eddie Chu.  

That’s eight lawmakers who are potential hurdles to any legislative railroading by Leung and his allies. Plus there are 10 traditional democrats who could plunge into action if necessary.

Like other political tools, the filibuster is open to manipulation but its best use is in stopping abuse by those in power.

Its ability to provide checks and balances by the simple act of holding up proceedings cannot be overestimated.

In the past four years, filibustering derailed several controversial proposals such as the copyright amendment bill which was aimed at tightening censorship on the internet and the medical registration bill which would have allowed the chief executive to appoint more public members to the medical council.

The latter raised concern the council could be used by Leung to reward allies and open the floodgates to Chinese doctors to practise in Hong Kong.

With more lawmakers planning to filibuster, Hong Kong people who elected them expect them to press for public discussion of issues and make unjust legislation more visible, as well as force the government to delay controversial policies and prioritize those that will improve daily life.

That’s filibustering for the good of Hong Kong people and has nothing to do with reducing the efficiency of government.

But Moody’s and Leung see only its bad side.

“The slow and less effective policymaking may result in a credit-negative development,” the rating agency said.

Then it tied that prospect to deeper social divisions and instability, saying political friction is “likely to continue and may intensify ahead of the chief executive election”.

That’s where Financial Secretary John Tsang differs.

He said Moody’s could have made a fairer conclusion if it had a more in-depth understanding of Hong Kong and how its government operates.

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SC/AC/RA

EJ Insight writer

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