Face-off the government dare not lose
Colleen Lee, Tony Cheung and Gary Cheung
With the legislative filibuster due to resume tomorrow, observers say the administration will not back down - it is out to please both Beijing and the pro-establishment camp and end the by-election row once and for all.
'If the government [gives in now], pan-democrats will have a sweeping victory while the authorities and the pro-establishment camp will lose,' a person close to the pro-government camp said.
But Dr James Sung Lap-kung, a political scientist at City University, has already singled out People Power - the group behind the filibuster - as 'the biggest winner'.
They have disrupted the legislative agenda for two straight weeks, which may win them more votes in September's Legislative Council election from Hongkongers wanting to show their opposition to the government, he said.
The administration's refusal to back down is apparently due to officials' concern that it would only encourage more filibustering in future - making governance more difficult. The contentious bill at the centre of the struggle would force lawmakers who resign from their seats to wait for six months before running for re-election.
It was launched after five pan-democratic lawmakers resigned in 2010 only to immediately stand as candidates in the resulting by-elections, in what they called a 'de facto referendum' on universal suffrage.
It is one of the 16 government bills pending approval - along with the proposed government restructuring - before the legislative term ends on July 18. There are only nine plenary meetings left to scrutinise the remaining bills, excluding the one set aside for the chief executive's question-and-answer session.
All leftover bills and resolutions will lapse and have to start from scratch when newly elected lawmakers begin work in October.
Sung said the authorities' refusal to back down could be a face-saving move. 'The government, the proestablishment camp and Beijing all believe that it is necessary to plug the loophole,' he said. 'The authorities do not want to lose face.'
The chances of the government shelving the bill will rise if the debate is blocked again this week, he said.
Ma Ngok, an associate professor in Chinese University's department of government and public administration, said the authorities probably had no option but to press on with the by-elections bill because it was a 'political task' assigned by Beijing to be completed before the new chief executive Leung Chun-ying takes over on July 1.
Dixon Sing Ming, of the University of Science and Technology, agreed officials may be worried that a surrender would encourage more filibusters. Leung must be worried that his proposed government revamp could be derailed, he added.
Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said his party opted not to join the filibuster because they wanted to use 'proportionate' measures in their political arguments.
They believed the electoral bill was not damaging enough to warrant paralysing the operation of the legislature, he said.
Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee sidestepped questions as to whether her party's refusal to join the filibuster might boil down to concerns about how it would affect their success in September's election.
She said her party believed the proper solution was to adjourn the debate on the bill rather than filibustering.