Lawmakers must rebuild confidence

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am


Politicians do not always enjoy strong public support. But increasingly, our lawmakers' performance has been winning ever more criticism than praise. Unruly behaviour, delaying tactics, a backlog of unfinished business - all these raise the question whether Hong Kong can be governed effectively. Now that the Legislative Council's current four-year term has come to an end, some soul-searching on the way forward is needed. Hopes were high that the legislature would turn a new chapter after relocating from the colonial building in Central to a new complex in Admiralty. Sadly, the move does not seem to have brought any positive change. There is a growing perception that the legislature has turned into an arena for political stunts rather than rational debate. We are more likely to read about politicians throwing bananas and eggs in the chamber rather than eloquent speeches aimed at winning over political rivals. Some critics have gone further, warning that a culture of violence has taken root.

Admittedly, the current political system puts Legco in an awkward situation. On one hand, it is expected to co-operate with the government and pass bills and funding requests. On the other, it is required to play the role of check and balance. In reality, however, the legislature is often seen as nothing more than a voting machine. Backed by Beijing-friendly members, the executive arm usually has majority support to pass whatever it wants. When the pan-democrats oppose proposals, they are seen as working against the government. With just one-third of the votes, they are the minority. What they can do, however, is frustrate officials by delaying the process.

Lawmakers are elected to be the voice of the people. Regrettably, the recent filibuster has dampened the public's satisfaction with them. There is also a perception that some gestures are election-driven, raising concerns whether some political groups are seeking to score points at the expense of Hong Kong's interests.

No doubt followers of the rebel lawmakers are happy to see Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's restructuring plan delayed by the filibuster. But to the community at large, it is a waste of time and public resources. The episode has fuelled calls to tighten house rules. While lawmakers' right to speak should not be unduly curbed, it is necessary to ensure Legco can function effectively.

Good governance depends on a working relationship between the government and the legislature. The number of lawmakers will increase by 10 to 70 after the September election. Whether the Leung administration can work effectively with the new Legco will depend on the balance of power among the different political camps. Hong Kong's interest is best served when both branches work together and rebuild confidence in governance.