Filibuster tactics win few friends

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2012, 12:00am


Our Legislative Council's affairs do not always make headlines. The agenda is usually boring and the proceedings tediously long. Nonetheless, the issues they deal with are important and lawmakers are expected to discharge their duties in a serious and responsible manner. Any attempt to deviate from this fine tradition should be discouraged.

Regrettably, our lawmakers have once again let down the people. After a walkout by pan-democrats against the controversial by-election bill the night before, members yesterday returned to a second-day meeting but found out there was a lack of a quorum to continue. The rival camps were quick to shirk the blame. But the damage is done. The council business in the coming weeks has been delayed as a result.

If the by-election amendment bill stays on the agenda when the council resumes next week, members have to continue vetting more than 1,300 amendments tabled by rebel lawmakers Albert Chan Wai-yip and Wong Yuk-man. They may take some 500 hours to finish if the pair speak on every amendment permitted by the house rules. Additionally, they are entitled to interrupt the proceeding from time to time to call for a headcount on whether there is a quorum in the chamber, thereby further delaying the scrutiny. The amendments are delaying tactics. Questions have to be asked why they have been allowed to be tabled in the first place.

Arguably, filibustering is part of the parliamentary process. Lawmakers are entitled to pursue their course as long as it is within the rules. The bill to plug the so-called loophole in the wake of the resignations of five pan-democrats lawmakers in 2010 is a controversial one. It fuelled the July 1 protest last year and forced the government to consult the public again. The bill has been revised. Instead of scrapping by-elections, a resigned lawmaker is barred from standing again in the following six months. But the change is still seen as restricting one's right to stand in an election. The pan-democrats are entitled to amend or vote against it.

However, the majority of the amendments appear to be frivolous. Even the rebel lawmakers admitted they were only meant to delay the process. Under the current voting system, the amendments have little chance of being passed. But other council business, such as the government revamp proposals of the incoming chief executive, are likely to be delayed as a result. The public can be excused for wondering whether it is a waste of time and an abuse of procedures.

Clearly, what is permitted by the rules does not necessarily mean the process will be accepted by the public. While lawmakers' right to speak should not be unduly curbed, they are expected to exercise it responsibly. Filibustering tactics will not help win public support.