Radicals ride their luck
Over the past two weeks, chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has fired repeated salvos at radical pan-democratic lawmakers for their attempts to filibuster a bill on electoral reform measures.
Leung has even gone so far as to urge voters to reconsider whether to vote for these lawmakers in the Legislative Council election to be held in September.
But Leung's appeals and stern warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears - at least among those determined to sabotage the bill - and his hope of mobilising voters to punish them at the ballot box appears to be politically unrealistic.
The filibuster is expected to take up most of Legco's time for the remainder of this week. Lawmakers are voting on some of 1,306 amendments filed by People Power lawmakers Albert Chan Wai-yip and Wong Yuk-man, who oppose the bill's proposal to ban legislators who quit midterm from standing in a by-election for a period of six months.
On Thursday lawmakers voted down 99 amendments and another 227 by the time voting ended at 10pm on Friday. Voting on the remaining 980 amendments will resume tomorrow, and is expected to take three more days.
On Saturday the High Court rejected League of Social Democrats legislator 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung's application for a judicial review of Legco president Tsang Yok-sing's move to end the filibuster. Two days earlier, Tsang invoked for the first time powers in the Legco's rules of procedure to halt a 33-hour debate and force lawmakers to vote on the proposed amendments.
However annoying the radical pan-democrats' delaying tactics may be to the political establishment and mainstream public observers, their chances of facing the consequences at the ballot box in September is rather low under the existing electoral system, which effectively nurtures minority and even radical voices.
Under the proportional representation system adopted since 1998, parties or non-affiliated groups rank candidates on lists. Their chances of winning a seat is based on a 'quota' - obtained by dividing the number of valid votes cast in the constituency by the number of available seats.
If a party gets enough votes to meet the quota, it automatically wins a seat. Whoever gets the remaining seats will be determined by ranking the so-called remainder votes.
Candidates in the Legco election will have their deposit forfeited if they win less than 3 per cent of the valid votes cast in their constituencies, but are sure to win a seat if they exceed this threshold. The vote share needed for winning a seat would be even lower if the number of directly elected seats is increased in the 2016 Legco election.
Under the system, having a small but fervent base of support is enough to win a seat. Chan, from People Power, won a seat in New Territories West with just 32,182 votes, or 8 per cent of votes, in the 2008 poll.
Leung Kwok-hung, meanwhile, won a seat in New Territories East in 2008 with about 12 per cent of votes in the constituency.
It would take a lower threshold to win a seat if five directly elected seats are added in September's vote. The scenario of returning with just 5 per cent of votes is more likely to happen in New Territories West and New Territories East, where nine seats will be up for grabs in each constituency.
For the Beijing-friendly camp, which advocated the switch from a single-seat, single-vote system to the proportional representation system in the run-up to the handover, this has been an ironic reversal - with the radical pan-democrats benefiting from the voting system the camp had championed.
Tsang was a proponent of the electoral change in the mid-1990s when he was chairman of what was then the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong. After its merger with the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, it became the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).
Tsang was adamant that the proportional representation system would prevent a monopoly of seats for the major parties, and thus allow more minority voices in the legislature. He believed his party would be able to win a few more Legco seats if they were divided in proportion to the total tally of votes which candidates won in the 1995 election.
Tsang and his party got what they wanted in 1998, after the 'first past the post' system was replaced by the proportional representation system.
But both the government and the Beijing-friendly camp are now facing the unintended consequences of the new system. For one, it has spurred a fragmented legislature, which makes it more difficult for government officials to lobby lawmakers' support.
The system also provides a breeding ground for radical lawmakers who can choose not to heed mainstream public opinion.
Tsang himself is now in hot water for unprecedentedly invoking powers in the rules of procedure to halt the filibustering debate on the contentious bill.
As for chief executive-elect Leung, instead of issuing repeated warnings against radical lawmakers and pinning his hope on voters to punish them, he should start pondering how to revamp the electoral system - particularly at a time when the city is inching towards universal suffrage.
The last time Legco hearings had to be suspended, when some lawmakers walked out as pan-democrats were quitting to force a by-election