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PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 3:17am

Ending budget filibuster was Legco's darkest day

Albert Cheng says action of president effectively killed off legislature's independence, while pan-democrats simply stood by and let it happen

BIO

Ir. Albert Cheng is the founder of Digital Broadcasting Corporation Hong Kong Limited, a current affairs commentator and columnist. He was formerly a direct elected Hong Kong SAR Legislative Councillor. Mr Cheng was voted by Time Magazine in 1997 as one of "the 25 most influential people in new Hong Kong" and selected by Business Week in 1998 as one of "the 50 stars of Asia".  
 

On Tuesday, the president of the Legislative Council, Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, finally ended 60 hours of filibustering on the budget bill with some tricky manoeuvring and the support of semi-reluctant mainstream democratic lawmakers.

It was Legco's darkest day and a sad moment that marked the death of one of our core values - the separation of powers between the three branches of government.

Limiting the time on the budget debate is equal to stripping the constitutional rights of lawmakers

Hong Kong people are no doubt saddened by the fact that our proud system and competitive advantages built up for over a century have been shattered overnight.

The delaying tactics were launched by a small group of radicals from the League of Social Democrats and People Power to protest against the lack of a universal pension scheme and to demand a HK$10,000 cash handout for local residents. They moved some 700 amendments to the bill and engaged in long speeches to draw out the debate.

I have never had any hope that Tsang would do the right thing as Legco president. Since taking over, he has been trying to portray an impartial political image. He may have fooled the majority of the public and the media, not to mention the pan-democrats, but not me.

Under the eye of the central government and Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, Tsang had to toe the line and fulfil a political mission, which meant that ending the filibuster was inevitable. Even though his actions seemed to be based on the Basic Law and Legco's rules of procedure, Tsang has still killed off the legislature's independence.

He did a similar thing last May when he abused the rules of procedure and ended filibustering on the government's by-election bill.

On both occasions, Tsang used the same twisted logic to justify his actions, pulled the wool over our eyes and got what he wanted. No matter how we look at it, limiting the time on the budget debate is equal to stripping the constitutional rights of lawmakers to speak freely in the council, obstructing them from performing their duties and emasculating the embedded constitutional function of the council.

In the end, that will damage our system of separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government

Tsang's action was a quick and deadly way to belittle Legco. Legislator Wong Yuk-man's suggestion to move a no-confidence motion wasn't enough; Tsang should step down.

It was also shocking to see the lack of action from the pan-democrats, who seemed to have surrendered. When Tsang announced he wanted to discuss ending the filibustering, they should have refused to attend the meeting. By showing up, they proved themselves complicit. They didn't even make a token gesture of dissatisfaction and discontent by staging a walkout.

Clearly, mainstream democrats are afraid to go against the populism created by the mainstream media. Hence, they refused to join in the filibustering.

However, they ignored the fact that filibustering gives minority members in any parliament an effective tool and a legal right to block any bill. This is an intrinsic right, which cannot be stripped away.

It's already questionable whether the pan-democrats have any political intelligence or courage, but their action to stand on the sidelines has also confirmed that they even lack political morals. They have failed in their duties as legislators. No wonder the public has little respect for the council.

It shows that the pan-democrats don't seem to truly believe in their own political stance or fully understand the political reality. They don't seem to be fully committed to their cause, which is to snatch governing power from the opposition. They don't have to be courteous to the opposition.

We are at war, not trying to make friends and expand our political network.

That's why even though I supported "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung in the filibuster, I disagreed with his behaviour. In the council chamber, he eagerly pointed an accusatory finger at Tsang for killing off the filibuster; outside the council, however, he seems to be friendly with Tsang. Is he in bed with the enemy? What's going on?

Since taking over as chief executive, Leung Chun-ying has been trying to take away the city's independence and erode our core values.

First, it was the governing system, then the rule of law, and now Legco.

The High Court and Court of Final Appeal are still standing strong and holding the fort. Yet, since the handover, the judiciary has been facing increasing political pressure over many social and political issues.

Will it, sooner or later, cave in? If that happens, it would be the end of all our rights, freedoms and core values, while dashing our hopes for a truly democratic future.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk

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