Let that be an end to the politicking
The filibuster mounted by some radical lawmakers is finally coming to an end. Following an overnight meeting, Legco President Tsang Yok-sing for the first time invoked a special power to halt the marathon debate on the unpopular by-election bill. Voting on the 1,300 amendments immediately follows and is expected to finish within days. While officials can heave a sigh of relief that the stumbling block has apparently been removed, pan-democrats, not surprisingly, condemned Tsang's ruling as a dangerous precedent in curbing members' right to speak.
The decision to kill off the delaying tactics is highly controversial, but not without justification. The scrutiny has been dragging on for nearly three weeks without any sign of compromise from the parties concerned. The weekly Wednesday sitting has been adjourned twice because of a lack of a quorum. Yet the government remains determined to push through the bill to plug what it says a loophole in the wake of a political stunt in 2010 when five pan-democrats resigned and stood in the by-election again to force a so-called referendum on democracy. The bill has already delayed other key government bills and the restructuring pushed by the incoming chief executive. Given the deadlock, Tsang's decision appears to be the last resort. There is a need to speed up the scrutiny and move on to more serious business. It is in the public interest to bring the political farce to an end.
There is no easy way out. As Tsang pointed out, he has to allow the minorities in the legislature to pursue their political course within the rules of procedures. But at the same time, he has the duty to ensure Legco operations are not paralysed. The rebel lawmakers are well known for their political stunts in Legco. Some even criticise their actions as nothing more than political point-scoring ahead of September's election. In order to maintain the quorum to finish the bill, pro-government lawmakers are forced to play along.
Tsang denied being pressured by the city government or the central government's liaison office to end the debate. But his ruling, which came after Beijing-friendly member Philip Wong Yu-hong's demand for an abrupt end to the debate at around 4am yesterday, has fuelled speculation that it was an orchestrated act to kill debate.
The power to stop the debate is a sweeping one. Article 92 of the rules of procedures gives the president the discretion to decide on practices and procedures not covered in existing provisions. The power should be exercised with great caution, especially when it is seen as curbing members' freedom to speak.
Some members have warned they will use similar delaying tactics when scrutinising the outstanding bills in the coming meetings. We hope they will think twice and put public interest ahead of politicking.