The Legco president needs to think again

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 May, 2010, 12:00am

When the proposed changes for the 2012 elections come up for a vote, it's likely to be a close one. Given the passions surrounding the issue, that's understandable. But having the role of the Legislative Council president become part of the debate isn't. Striking a deal on political reform is difficult enough without such distractions. Tsang Yok-sing has threatened to resign and vote, if that is what it takes to secure the two-thirds majority needed to pass reforms.

The president is, by convention, politically neutral. Tsang's statement undermines the dignity and traditions of Legco, the very values he has been instrumental in upholding. Indeed, since the controversial election of the veteran leftist and DAB stalwart as presiding officer, Tsang has confounded critics and perceptions that his background raised questions about neutrality and fairness.

At the time he was elected Tsang got off on the wrong foot by saying he was inclined to continue exercising his right to vote in Legco. Sensibly, he later accepted he should abide by the convention. Since then, he has hardly put a foot wrong. It is not as if he has not been tested by political opponents, with lawmakers from the League of Social Democrats hurling personal insults and throwing bananas at officials in Legco soon after he took office. He ejected them only when they refused a call to order and, in response to government complaints, said it was his duty to ensure freedom of speech. He has thus struck a balance between not unduly restricting debate, and upholding the dignity of the chamber.

But by stating his intentions on the political reform issue now, he erodes the perception of neutrality that has won him respect. It also raises the question of what would happen if he did step down. Legco needs a president. In any case, the point of the legislative process in this case is that it is supposed to represent the endorsement by Hong Kong people of the reforms. The tactical use of the president's vote to obtain the required majority would hardly amount to a resounding endorsement. For the sake of upholding the traditions and dignity of his office, Tsang should think again, and rescind his statement.