Head fight in fugitive fiasco won't last long

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 May 2019

It's unprecedented in the legislature's history to have two heads for a panel. The mud wrestling in the past week over the selection of someone to chair the committee to scrutinize a government bill seeking to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance was simply bizarre.

While filibustering is nothing new in parliamentary politics, the Legislative Council is probably the first among its peers to have gone so far as to see its rival camps claiming to have elected a legitimate head of their own for the same committee.

The pro-democracy opposition that voted its member James To Kun-sun as the committee chairman on Monday is doomed to lose the fight because it forms the minority in Legco.

The development may add confusion to the course of events but won't alter the results - just as what's been occurring in Venezuela, where opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself the country's president.

The law change allowing the handover of wanted people to the mainland is unarguably the most controversial event since the Occupy protests in 2014. Will it revive filibustering to impact not just the bill but other general Legco business in general - including funding approvals? That's the concern.

As Legco's most senior member, To was automatically charged with the duty of presiding over the bills committee meeting to elect the chairman and vice-chairman. In a normal situation, the election would be completed within 15 minutes or so, and the elected head would take over to chair the meeting.

However, To couldn't have been more inefficient this time. After two lengthy sessions, the chairman and vice-chairman were still not elected. There were only two probable reasons for the delay. First, the opposition's queries that bogged down the procedure were genuine and must be clarified. Second, it was all but another form of filibustering to delay the bill's passage, as the pan-democrats knew they would be unable to block the bill unless they were joined by lawmakers from the business sector.

It's clearly due to the latter.

The opposition was rather united this time and it's likely that, after suffering numerous setbacks in the house, they were trying to come up with innovative and extreme tactics.

Political gossip has it that even some pan-democratic old guards - including ex-lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong - were unhappy with the ploy that is currently making Legco secretary general Kenneth Chen Wei-on a victim in the political mud slinging.

Although the amendment proposal put forward by the administration is disquieting, the tactics that the pro-democracy camp is resorting to are equally disturbing. Remember that filibustering is the last thing the public wants to see.

Nonetheless, it's necessary to address the fears that the community and business world have in common over the amendment. Constitutional law scholar and Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen Hung-yee's suggestion to let Hong Kong residents wanted by the mainland stand trial in the SAR may not answer foreign business associations' concerns but should still be taken seriously by the administration.

Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah's attacks on Chen were unjustified.

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