Pointless filibusters waste time and money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 3:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 4:44am

Outrage is to be expected after a filibuster over the vote on the budget bill brought the Legislative Council to an abrupt halt on Wednesday. Just four hours into the would-be marathon session, the rival camps locked horns and found themselves lacking a quorum to continue. The adjournment means not only that 12 hours of meeting time were wasted, it also unnecessarily delayed proceedings for a week.

The criticism levelled against "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung is well deserved. He was accused of knowingly leaving the chamber at the last minute so that the quorum would be one member short. But the rebel lawmaker shrugged off the attack, saying the scenario could have been avoided had more pro-establishment lawmakers attended the meeting. The finger-pointing does little to ease people's anger. It only tarnishes Legco's poor image further.

The budget vote is not just clogged with some 1,000 amendments. In addition, the rebels seize every opportunity to delay the proceedings. They repeatedly demanded a headcount whenever there were too few members inside the chamber. With the quorum bell ringing for up to 15 minutes, much of the time was spent on calling members to return to the chamber.

Filibusters, if used properly, can be a powerful tool to block unpopular government proposals. But the rebels have clearly gone to the extreme. One lawmaker estimated a filibuster wasted HK$2.5 million of public money a day. The antics have also prompted the pan-democrats to explore a better mechanism against abuse. One suggestion is that a motion with two-thirds support can end debate. This gives the majority a collective power to kill a filibuster, but still allows the minority some leeway. It is better than keeping the status quo that allows a handful of rebels to drag out or derail the agenda. Legco should reach an early consensus on how to stop the abuse. Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing can also be more decisive in cutting down on filibusters in future.


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