• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 7:24pm

A clear break with tradition

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 January, 1997, 12:00am

Long-time political figure Peggy Lam Pei Yu-dja might have been right when she proposed a five-minute slot for the two bidders for the post of provisional legislature president to detail their platforms before the voting in Shenzhen yesterday.


A break in the traditions of the Legislative Council would perhaps have served as a curtain raiser for the new rules of the game - and the changed role - of the takeover legislature over the next 17 months.


Andrew Wong Wang-fat, with his self-declared mission to continue to 'referee' the legislature, will have found his defeat by Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai not only a political bombshell for himself but a harbinger of profound changes the operation of the interim legislature will bring.


Mr Wong, who opposed the idea of a provisional legislature during his Legco election campaign, will face growing pressure to explain where he stands on controversial issues during the deliberations of the body.


Should he have been chosen to preside over the legislature, he would have been able to argue the impartiality of the president in the system to justify the need for him to continue his silence.


His bid for the present Legco presidency went unchallenged last year thanks to a compromise between rival factions who wanted an accepted independent to referee the legislature's proceedings.


Despite his famous ruling to kick out unionist Leung Yiu-chung for his alleged attacks on colleagues as 'foul grass growing out of a foul jar' during a debate last year, Mr Wong has largely been able to meet the expectations of a politically independent president.


This is especially important in an increasingly politicised Legco with clear divisions between the factions.


The president has a significant role in making judgments on contentious issues ranging from whether the wording of a motion and a specific point made in a debate are allowed under the Standing Orders.


The game rules, to be refereed by the president, helps ensure a fair, open and healthy operation of the body.


A Legco that works effectively, truly and wholly reflecting the views of the community, is in a stronger position to monitor the operation of the executive branch and make it more accountable to public opinion.


There is a fear, however, that the replacement of Legco on July 1 will also spell the end of the supervisory role of the legislature.


Mrs Fan, once a high-flier in the British political establishment but a woman who switched camps after the arrival of Governor Chris Patten, has already vowed to make a difference.


She has said she would travel abroad to defend Beijing's political decision to install the provisional legislature.


Mrs Fan has also taken a clear position on contentious issues such as the proposals to dilute human rights ordinances.


Instead of a referee in a football match, Mrs Fan probably sees herself more as the captain whose duty is to unite her team-mates and finish the jobs listed out the China-appointed Preparatory Committee.


Unlike previous Legcos, the provisional legislature will not be expected to challenge the decisions of the executive authorities. Its duty is to complete the formality of legislative procedures on policy decisions dictated by the Preparatory Committee.


Some of Mr Wong's 27 supporters were off the mark if they thought a vote for him was a vote for legislative continuity before and after the handover.


There are good reasons for China to prefer Mrs Fan to Mr Wong.


Her selection ensures continuity for the tasks spelled out by the Preparatory Committee to be carried out by the provisional legislature.


There is no doubt that it will rubber stamp the reinstatement of the Societies Ordinance and Public Order Ordinance as well as the electoral laws for the first SAR legislature.


Formed at a unique time with unique purpose, the provisional legislature should not be mistaken as a forum, where a referee is needed to preside over a debate on conflicting views.


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