20 September 2019
The opposition lost six seats in the legislature after the High Court disqualified six lawmakers for improper oath-taking last year. Photo: Bloomberg
The opposition lost six seats in the legislature after the High Court disqualified six lawmakers for improper oath-taking last year. Photo: Bloomberg

Democrats must guard against being turned into a lameduck

It seems that the opposition is adopting a friendly approach to the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam in order to rebuild trust.

However, the democrats should be wary of the fact that the government and the pro-Beijing camp are joining forces to reduce their influence in the legislature by putting an end to filibustering.

The opposition lost six seats in the legislature after the High Court disqualified six lawmakers for improper oath-taking last year, leaving pan-democrats with no outright veto power.

Against that backdrop, the democrats should stand firm against any unreasonable rule changes that undermine their ability to question government bills.

The democrats have done nothing wrong to approach Lam in exchange for future cooperation. But it’s worth noting that the government has fought filibustering in the past even though the lawmakers had raised important questions on behalf of the public.

Now the government has stepped back to allow pro-Beijing forces to drive the rule change to end filibustering. Is that being friendly to the democrats? Clearly, the answer is no.

The pan-democrats have a right to change their relationship with the Lam administration but it should be on an equal, mutually beneficial basis.

So, it is fine for the opposition camp to meet Lam on a regular basis to share their views on government policy and the government should also learn from the lawmakers how they view its performance.

While the democrats are a minority in the legislature, they won more than half of the popular vote in a direct election. They were backed by more than a million voters, with a mandate to monitor the government operation.

Now the government is playing different tricks to undermine the opposition in all aspects.

Take the public consultation on the Express Rail Link’s co-location arrangement at the Hong Kong West Kowloon terminus as an example. The pan-democrats expressed their opposition to the government proposal, saying it violates the Basic Law, and have initiated another plan to have immigration checks in Shenzhen instead.

The government turned a deaf ear to the plan. It rejected Tanya Chan’s invitation for a public debate on such an arrangement, citing the debate could only widen the social rift. What a ridiculous excuse.

Lam and her transport minister, Frank Chan, are insulting a million supporters of the democratic lawmakers by ignoring their proposal to explore all avenues relating to the co-location plan.

If the government just wants to discuss its own proposal and nothing else, there is no need for the democrats to entertain Lam.

The government is of a mindset that the democrats are enemies. When they asked Lam to promise not to disqualify any elected lawmaker in the future, Lam refused. That said, she has reserved her power to implement Beijing’s orders to kick out any politicians the central authorities don’t like.

Lam also made no mention of restarting political reform, which disappointed democrats. Hopes of a more democratic Hong Kong are slipping away even further.

Democrats should understand that the administration and the pro-Beijing camp are not their partners as pro-Beijing lawmakers press ahead with their agenda to kill filibustering.

The two sides have been engaged in a war of words. Democrats accuse the pro-Beijing camp of destroying the legislature’s power to monitor the government, while the pro-Beijing camp says the opposition is putting its political interests ahead of people’s welfare.

It all started when the pan-democrats stayed away from an unofficial meeting convened by finance committee chairman Chan Kin-por yesterday to discuss proposed rule changes aimed at ending filibustering. Twenty pro-government lawmakers attended the meeting.

Opposition lawmakers said the meeting was intended to diminish the legislature’s role to monitor government spending. Lawmaker Chu Hoi-dick said the pro-Beijing camp triggered a self-destructive process.

The pro-Beijing camp is trying its best to turn the legislature into a rubber stamp. Of course, the government will support it. The democrats, on the other hand, should continue to remind themselves of their duty to provide checks and balances for the benefit of the public.

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EJ Insight writer