Filibuster buster gets my vote ...

Editorial | 11 Oct 2017

It's eye-popping that Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por is moving to issue so-called "chairman's directives" to mandate changes to committee rules - without putting them to a vote by his peers.

That's the crude political reality the pan-democrats should have known, the moment they embarked on the chariot of filibustering to paralyze the Legislative Council and Finance Committee from carrying out their normal functions.

Filibustering has become so extreme in recent years that it has already lost its original political meaning.

The pan-democrats may cry foul, but it would be an exercise in futility, as the committee rules will be changed anyway - either by Chan unilaterally, or even if he changes his mind, by a vote in which the pro-Beijing side enjoys an absolute majority.

The chickens have come home to roost.

The pro-democracy camp is free to criticize Chan for going unilateral, but I can't blame him for showing the resolve to end filibustering at the all- important committee responsible for scrutinizing government spending.

The pan-dems ought to know that since filibustering became the new normal of parliamentary life, many projects that should have been launched remain stalled on the pending list. In the last legislative year, only 29 government funding applications - one third of that in 2015/16 - were passed. In dollar terms, it amounted to a shortfall of a staggering HK$50 billion.

The public isn't thrilled about the situation.

What Chan seeks to do is ban opposition lawmakers from returning to the chamber for the rest of the day if they're booted out of the meeting for improper behavior - ending the current practice that allows the ousted individuals to return to the next session on the same day. The committee chairman also wants to limit the time a lawmaker may speak, from three minutes down to one minute.

Filibustering had happened before, but became extreme of late. In view of the damage done to people's livelihood, it's necessary to strengthen the efficacy of parliamentary deliberations. This is the community consensus.

However, it would be imprudent to stop making efforts for reconciliation on a broad basis. While the pro- democracy camp may hold fewer seats in the legislature, they've consistently won more votes than the pro- establishment side in Legco elections since 1997. It's the larger number of people that reconciliation appeals to.

Chan is indisputably correct in observing the opposition never acts the way his pro-establishment side does and they - the opposition - will attack again once they're back in full force after the by-elections.

As a matter of truth, wouldn't it be the same if the shoe was on the other foot? But it would be absolutely misleading for Chan to liken reconciliation, or even grand reconciliation, in Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet- ngor's own words, to a poison pill with sugar coating.

The disqualification of six pro- democracy lawmakers for their improper oath-taking has created a window for their pro-establishment rivals to overhaul house rules to preempt future filibustering.

I'm certain that after the Finance Committee, the pro-establishment will pounce on the next opportunity to tighten the rules for Legco.

However, as they do so, steps must be taken to keep the peace-making process on track.

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