Impasse stays in extradition scrum

Editorial | Mary Ma 15 May 2019

The bizarre mud wrestling in the Legislative Council over a government bill to amend the extradition law that would allow people wanted in the mainland to be handed over has gotten only more bizarre.

Abraham Shek Lai-him, picked by his pro-government peers to replace pan-democrat James To Kun-sun to preside over a meeting to select the bills committee's chairman and vice-chairman, couldn't stand the heat and quit the role.

The second attempt by Shek to convene the meeting was extraordinarily short - all of 18 seconds.

The development was indicative. First, it may be a signal, but of what? Second, the matter is getting out of control. Third, the impasse will cast a long shadow over Legco. Fourth, confidence in the constitutional setup involving the administration, the legislature and the judiciary would be eroded.

They all stem from a government move to introduce an ill-conceived bill at the wrong time.

Even if the government showed a willingness to withdraw the bill now, the damage is already done. Worse, it's most unlikely the administration would do so, in view of what Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu had to say at their press conference yesterday.

It would be pointless to blame anyone since those backing the administration are bound to hold the opposition responsible, while others identifying with the pan-democrats would similarly attack the ruling coalition. Such a debate is doomed to be partisan.

Immediately, To - the pan-democrat who the opposition insists it wants as chairman - called for tripartite talks with the pro-government camp and administration to resolve the deadlock.

It surprised me that pro-establishment lawmakers such as Martin Liao Cheung-kong, and even Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen responded positively to the olive branch.

The appeal was extended because To was clear - they would lose the moral support if they allowed the drama to drag on.

Meanwhile, it's in the pro-establishment camp's interest to end the impasse, knowing the bill is unpopular and their business-sector colleagues are extremely worried about it.

The lack of interest expressed by the chief secretary in To's proposal is revealing. It couldn't be clearer - and the administration knows it - it's all nothing but a pan-democrat bid to delay passage of the bill as long as possible. Not unlike what Beijing has been doing in its trade negotiations with Washington, the pan-democrats want to buy time to wait for a change in the situation in their favor.

Nonetheless, it's alarming to hear ex-Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing calling out for the bill to be taken directly to a second reading without going through the bills committee stage. That's alarming because the matter won't get any better as a result of cutting corners.

If the lawmakers' mud wrestling to explore systemic weaknesses to seek total control of the bills committee is deplorable, bypassing this committee stage would be just another condemnable maneuver to drill a rat's hole in the legislative system.

It's time to let whoever started the trouble to end the trouble.

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