Every year, the Legislative Council has to vote on two important proposals: a “motion of thanks” routinely moved by the chairperson of the House Committee following the announcement of that year’s policy address by the chief executive, and the Appropriation Bill, more commonly known as the “Budget”, tabled by the financial secretary.
The passage of the Appropriation Bill is considered a must because it is a binding piece of legislation that guarantees funding for the government, and the defeat of the bill will lead to a government shutdown.
Since the 1997 handover, the “ayes” have always prevailed in the Legco vote on the Appropriation Bill, and no government annual budget proposal has ever been thrown out by the legislature.
However, unlike the Appropriation Bill, the motion of thanks is a non-binding and ceremonial motion that dates back to the British colonial period, when the Senior Member of Legco would move the motion on behalf of all other members to express their gratitude to the colonial governor for delivering the policy address.
After 1997, that tradition has been preserved in Legco with some slight changes.
Firstly, since the position of Senior Member no longer exists, the motion is now moved by the chairperson of the House Committee instead.
And secondly, the motion has to now pass both the geographical and functional constituencies under the existing “split voting system” in order to gain official passage through the Legco.
Yet, given that since the 1997 handover up until the current term of Legco, the functional constituency had always been dominated by the pro-establishment camp and the geographical constituency by the pro-democracy camp, it had become almost a routine that the motion always passed the functional constituency but got defeated in the geographical constituency.
As a result, since 1997, only five motions of thanks were unanimously passed by both constituencies in Legco.
During former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa’s seven years in office, only two motions of thanks for his policy addresses were passed.
His successor Donald Tsang Yam-kuen only had two motions of thanks passed during his seven years in office.
And in the case of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, no motion of thanks was ever passed throughout his five-year term.
On the other hand, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor apparently got off to a pretty good start; she is the only chief executive so far to see the passage of a motion of thanks in Legco during the first year in office.
The significance of the motion of thanks is twofold: it is an indication of whether or not the policy address is well-received by the general public, and it is a reflection of the state of relations between the legislature and the executive branch.
In that respect, the motion of thanks is seen as a thermometer of how well the implementation of the policies of the chief executive is.
As for this year’s motion of thanks, it is highly likely that Legco will pass it again.
That’s because Lam has put forward a number of policy initiatives apparently aimed at winning over the pan-dems, such as pledging additional funding for education to please lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and proposing the vacant property tax, which is being pushed by Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang.
As such, the pan-dems are likely to support this year’s policy address.
Moreover, the pro-establishment camp is now in control of both the functional and geographical constituencies in Legco as a result of the disqualification of five pan-democratic lawmakers, four of whom were popularly elected.
Even if the pan-dems manage to claim back their lost seat in the Kowloon West by-election next month, their number compared with the seats occupied by the pro-Beijing camp in the geographical constituencies would still remain at 17:17, which means they would still be unable to defeat the motion.
In fact, responses to this year’s policy address are rather intriguing.
As far as the pan-dems are concerned, they, by and large, hold a positive view of the proposed policy initiatives, except for some political issues.
For example, as we have said, lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen representing the education sector is pretty affirmative with this year’s speech.
Interestingly, though, the responses from members of the pro-establishment camp were not totally favorable.
For instance, former Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, who is currently a member of the Task Force on Land Supply, said he was shocked and disappointed by the policy address, particularly the fact that the government couldn’t wait to unveil its 1,700-hectare reclamation project before the Task Force submits its final report on its public consultation findings.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 20
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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