Tiresome theatrics in the Legislative Council is a turn-off for the Hong Kong public

Pan-democrats have the right to filibuster, but the overuse of such tactics could backfire on them come September’s elections

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 12:54am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 2:26am

After weeks of filibustering, the HK$19.6 billion extra funding for the controversial high-speed railway project was abruptly put to a vote and declared approved amid chaos last Friday. While officials can breathe a sigh of relief that the railway, which will now cost HK$ 84.4 billion to complete, will not be derailed by ballooning costs, the outcome has upset the pan-democrats further and set the stage for more confrontations.

The clashes at the Legislative Council Finance Committee meeting were regrettable. Despite the chaos, the pro-establishment camp maintained that the funding was passed according to procedures. But the pan-democrats argued that the vote was invalid, referring to the fact that some pro-government lawmakers had raised their hands for both the “yes” and “no” vote. The pan-democrats vowed to overturn the result with a judicial review.

That chaos in Legco has become the norm rather than an exception is worrying. The tension between the two camps seems to have intensified after the Friday’s drama, as reflected in another meeting the following day. The pan-democrats seized the presiding bench, after the chairman refused to invalidate the vote on the railway funding.

READ MORE: Uproar at Legco after snap vote leads to passage of HK$19.6 billion for Hong Kong high-speed rail link

The Saturday meeting was scheduled to deal with a long list of outstanding funding requests, many of which are directly related to people’s livelihood. Regrettably, it was forced to be adjourned because of the pan-democrats’ unruly behaviour. The committee’s chairman warned of the need to strengthen security to guard against disruptive tactics. The rising tension may fuel more extreme actions and turn into a vicious cycle.

The pan-democrats say they do not want to hold up livelihood-related funding items. But it seems unlikely that they will give up filibustering altogether. One rebel lawmaker has already warned that the legislature could not return to normal operations if his bid to move a no-confidence motion against the committee’s chairman was brushed aside.

Controversial as it is, filibustering is a tool for the opposition to block or delay unpopular policies. But unlike other places where it is used sparingly, it has become so regular in our legislature that it risks becoming a meaningless political ritual.

As September’s Legco elections draw near, more of such theatrics may only backfire. The public is clearly fed up with political bickering. What they want is an efficient legislature, not one that is dysfunctional.