A political issue has, at long last, united pro-establishment lawmakers and mainstream pan-democrats in the legislature - the filibuster. Two fringe groups from pro-democracy camps have filed 751 amendments to the government's proposed budget, which will be debated in Legco next week. If they succeed, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats and three other legislators from the People Power party will potentially use up to 800 hours - equivalent to 80 Legco working sessions - to make their point.
But what exactly are they trying to accomplish? They are upset at the omission of a universal pension plan in the budget. Their amendments aim to cut the budget of practically every government department, presumably as a retaliatory statement. The disrupters par excellence have no hope of blocking the bill's passage, as the government has more than enough support. But they may still waste a lot of time for everyone. They know their action is not popular but still appeals to their small but hard-core constituencies.
A universal pension is a laudable, if very distant, goal for our society. But if every lawmaker decides to tie up public financing to advertise or promote their own pet causes, nothing will ever get done. Between October and December, Leung used filibusters to try to block a popular government plan to replace the "fruit money" of needy elderly with a higher monthly allowance of HK$2,200. Their objections delayed the new payment by a month. It was the kind of grandstanding and time-wasting antics that earns Legco the Cantonese nickname lap sap kuk, or the garbage council.
Reading the public mood correctly, major pan-democratic groups such as the Democratic Party and the Civic Party say they will not take part in the filibustering. They have a more important fight - universal suffrage - and know they need all the public support they can get. While filibustering may be a legitimate tactic, it should only be used sparingly. Otherwise the public will justifiably lose patience.