Long on theatrics, short on leadership

Editorial | Mary Ma 18 Dec 2017

Since pan-democrats lost their majority in the geographical half of the Legislative Council, after a number of them got themselves disqualified over the oath-taking fiasco, it's only a matter of time before rules are amended to limit filibustering.

But few had expected it to happen so swiftly - why, it's not even Christmas!

The pan-dems may keep accusing the pro-establishment camp of "castrating" the legislature to make it more like the National People's Congress. But the political reality boils down to the number of votes each side possesses.

The pro-democracy camp had gained several more seats in the geographical half in last year's election, but lost them after several of them played footloose and fancy-free with their oath-taking despite warnings. As a result, they relinquished control over the geographical half to the establishment.

They complained the changed rules would totally tilt the game toward the establishment. But have they ever asked whether the changes would favor them lopsidedly too - if they manage to win an overall majority in the 70-seat house?

Yes, they could also stand to benefit, for it's always a numerical game.

More than 20 amendments were passed, including provisions to slash the quorum for full-council proceedings from 35 to 20; to allow the president to resume proceedings immediately after they're declared to be aborted; to elevate the threshold for forming inquiry committees from 20 to 35; and to limit lawmakers' freedom to drag out speeches and move amendments.

Lawmakers can still employ delaying tactics, but their ability to do so is now greatly inhibited. At the City Forum yesterday, conservationist lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick condemned the pro-Beijing camp for robbing the opposition of its "peaceful engagement" tool, leaving them with no choice but to resort to even more confrontational tactics in future.

Is Chu bluffing? Or is he serious? It all depends on how the public responds.

This time around, the public didn't seem to be responding to the opposition's call. Throughout the debate, only several dozen people were outside Legco in support of the pan-democrats.

Why was the public so cool to the issue? The pan-democrats can't dismiss the possibility people have lost interest in filibustering, after seeing motions and bills being passed despite filibustering attempts to block their passage.

The purpose of filibustering hasn't been clear, or the public may have simply become fed up with the tactic after watching it for years.

The amendments are too technical to interest the layman. The opposition tried to link them to the Article 23 issue, but it's too distant to generate interest. The pan-democrats also tried to connect them to the co-location clearance question at the West Kowloon Rail Terminus, but that arrangement is supported by many in society.

On the contrary, it's clear in the debate the opposition has yet to find a leader. Chu chained himself to the seat, and Ted Hui Chi-fung set off an alarm and locked it inside a drawer. They were long on theatrics, but alarmingly short on leadership.

Can the opposition win 35 seats or more in the next election? Well, as English poet Robert Browning used to say: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp - or what's a heaven for?"

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