Hong Kong needs a time-out from self-serving legislators

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2012, 12:00am

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In the Western mindset, filibustering is procedurally correct and therefore lawful. This is based on several thousand years of blind belief that law is ultimately traced to God, and therefore rules should be obeyed and abided by.

China, however, is a godless country, and multiple deities provide ethical role models. Laws are judged by whether they are consistent with common sense and are workable. Legality has no overriding authority, and in fact most Chinese think that rules should be adaptable to changing conditions and not be rigidly fixed.

As such, filibustering as a practice is by itself neither good nor bad, but a procedural loophole that can serve a purpose. If that purpose is good, then it is OK; but if it is bad, then no way.

In other nations' parliaments, a filibuster is employed to stall the passing of bills to stimulate further debate and buy time for a possible reversal. In our case, the battle lines have been drawn. There are no further debates inside or outside the Legislative Council, and no new points raised. The result of the vote has already been written on the wall.

A minority of three just wanted to make use of this procedural technicality to delay the inevitable and ultimately sabotage the whole system.

The Chinese mind will ask: is this good for Hong Kong? Should we allow this to go on? Even the Democratic Party has to admit that, according to their rolling opinion polls, the majority of Hong Kong citizens are against the filibuster. What is lawful does not make it right.

There will be a backlash. Many people will clamour for some new rules to end this kind of pointless waste of public money and our honourable lawmakers' precious time. I must say I am among those in favour of this refinement of our developing system.

But, again, unlike most Westerners, Chinese don't particularly believe in systems, and hold the idea that all systems are man-made. The Americans used to be so proud of their system that Francis Fukuyama said it signalled 'the end of history', but it has now been brought down by some greedy people in power.

I am doubtful whether just plugging the leaks in our system will solve the problem.

Filibustering can be stopped even in our present system. Some pundits have pointed out that Legco president Tsang Yok-sing could have intervened during at least four points in the proceedings, but he chose not to in an attempt to show his impartiality and open-mindedness. Some even conjectured that as Tsang wants to run in September's Legco election, behaving this way would gain him votes. Only when things seemed to be getting out of hand and public opinion was clearly against this ugly show did Tsang exercise his authority to stop it, again with his eyes on the polling stations.

The self-serving petty political calculations on all sides at the expense of public interest is disappointing, to say the least. Voters on the whole are becoming more alienated. This will lead to a low turn-out rate in the Legco election, which may not work to Tsang's advantage.

The point is that, no matter what systems and procedures we have at hand, the most important thing is to establish ethical standards for our politicians. They are there to serve us, not to play self-serving games.

The Western arguments are that voters can punish politicians who misbehave by voting them out. These post hoc measures are sound but only remedial; Chinese want to do better by creating an ethical environment so that only the good guys who truly want to serve the public will ever enter the political arena in the first place.

Common sense tells us that if we pick an agent to represent us, we should at least pick an honest one who will faithfully act on our behalf rather than some crook who patently pursues his private agenda under our name. Using ethical standards as our yardstick, I am sad to say that most, if not all, of our legislators do not qualify.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development