Legco's pregnant pause a crying shame

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Jan 2020

The sudden adjournment of yesterday's Legislative Council meeting was rather dispiriting. It dealt mothers-to-be a blow because it means a bill intended to extend maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks will continue to be stuck in the middle of politicking in the legislature.

The amendment to lengthen maternity leave is long overdue as Hong Kong is one of the toughest societies for women planning to have babies.

When their counterparts in the West have maternity leave ranging from six months to more than a year, women in Hong Kong have to return to work before they can fully recover from giving birth.

Delay in passing the bill is in nobody's interest.

It's most regrettable that Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen had to cut short the meeting after none of the pan-democratic lawmakers showed up and half of the pro-government legislators were absent.

It wasn't the first time a Legco meeting had to be called off due to a short quorum. Since the Legco session resumed in October, there has been little progress in government business that requires legislative examination and approval.

Who is not concerned that the stalemate will persist as heels are dug in?

Elsewhere in some district councils, a phenomenon with similar effects is emerging.

For example, the opposition-controlled Kwun Tong District Council passed a motion this week to stop the building of a HK$50 million musical fountain that has already been under construction on the district's promenade.

Although the fountain project was extremely controversial when it was first proposed, it went through the normal procedure both in the previously government-controlled Kwun Tong District Council and Legco.

As it was properly approved and funded, it is too late to withdraw the project without incurring losses due to breach of contract.

Kwun Tong District Council's decision was inappropriate - just as much as the politicking that has almost paralyzed the operation of Legco.

Looking ahead, the upcoming Legco election in September will most likely lead to further escalation in partisan conflicts within the political assembly. It will be a continuation of the trend set off by last November's district council election in which non-establishment candidates won a landslide victory to take control of 17 of the 18 local councils.

Over the years, the share of votes between pan-democratic and pro-Beijing candidates has largely been 60-40, with the gap narrowing in recent years.

However, after a few months of protests against the government and alleged police "brutality," the gap widened again to 60-40 in favor of the opposition in the local council elections as more people voted for non-establishment candidates in protest against the authorities.

The trend is expected to continue in September when voters will again head to polling booths to elect their lawmakers for the next four years.

While the opposition is unlikely to win more than half the Legco seats due to the bicameral design of Legco where half the members are returned by functional constituencies, the gap could be the narrowest since 1997.

The streets may have become calmer with fewer demonstrations, but the off-street undercurrents remain strong.

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