22 February 2019
“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung (middle) is often called one of the founding fathers of filibusters. Photo: HKEJ
“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung (middle) is often called one of the founding fathers of filibusters. Photo: HKEJ

Time for the pan-democrats to ditch filibusters

Today Legco resumes the second reading of the appropriations bill and as expected it is time for the filibuster party again.

Although the pan-democrats claimed they had exercised considerable restraint this time, they still tabled 742 amendments to the bill, with 522 of them coming from “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung alone.

However, it appears this year’s drama is not going to play out according to the pan-democrats’ plan. Legco President Andrew Leung has only granted approval to 185 amendments, the least in five years, on the grounds that most of the amendments are either “irrelevant or trivial”.

It is the fifth consecutive year the pan-democrats are pulling filibusters. In fact, when former lawmakers, or the so-called “founding fathers of filibusters” Wong Yuk-man, Albert Chan and the incumbent Long Hair, resorted to this trick for the first time in 2012, they did wow the public and throw the administration completely off guard.

As a result, they succeeded in blocking Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s funding request for expanding his cabinet. If anything, that was their hour of glory.

However, as the other moderate pan-democrats such as the Democratic Party and the Civic Party also jumped on the filibuster bandwagon, its element of surprise and novelty began to wear off.

And as the filibuster saga goes on year after year without any clear goal or agenda, it has turned into a meaningless ritual that no longer amuses the public.

As a matter of fact, many citizens have become increasingly annoyed by the never-ending filibusters in our legislature, treating them as a waste of taxpayers’ money rather than a way to show civil resistance.

And the fact that the Court of Final Appeal ruled in September 2014 that former Legco President Tsang Yok-sing did not overstep his constitutional power by invoking cloture during the Legco debate on the 2012/13 Budget only further undermined the legitimacy and credibility of filibusters.

In the meantime, both the pro-establishment camp and the administration have already got the hang of dealing with filibusters in recent years. And as a result, such a trick can no longer block any government bill like it did before.

It is expected that filibusters would prove even more harmless to the incoming administration because after all incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam herself is a seasoned government bureaucrat who knows the Legco rules of procedure backwards and forwards.

Sadly, even though filibusters have become so unpopular among the public, the pan-democrats still stick to them because they are apparently at their wits’ end about how to embarrass the government.

Perhaps it is time for the pan-democratic lawmakers to do something more productive to justify their six-figure monthly salaries.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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