‘Olive branch’ may not be quite what it seems

Talks offer to government-friendly bloc by members of the opposition may appear amicable but it comes at a time of distrust and little compromise

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 2:09am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 2:17am

Where did this come from? The opposition in the legislature has offered to meet members of the government-friendly bloc to discuss proposals from both sides to overhaul its rules and procedures.

It has been described as “an olive branch”, a good-faith gesture. But their animosity and distrust run deep, and are only getting worse. It has been a war of attrition over the Legislative Council rule book since the pro-establishment side saw an opening with the disqualification of six opposition lawmakers over improper oath-taking.

At least until the by-elections next March, the loyalist camp should be able to muster enough votes to rewrite the rules to restrict filibusters. The opposition has countered with dozens of amendments to stymie attempts to curb filibustering and make it harder to investigate officials.

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It’s hard to see any room for compromise. Legco loyalists now have the perfect opportunity to shove the changes down the throat of the opposition, which can, of course, stall until March, but that would mean delaying Legco items in key meetings for five months.

The opposition has seen the public relations damage from such stalling tactics in its continual delay of a non-binding motion on joint customs and immigration checkpoints at the upcoming high-speed rail terminus in West Kowloon.

It’s a minor government motion that will not make any material difference to the controversial checkpoint arrangements, yet the opposition has gone for the nuclear option over it.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has raised herself above this whole fight over rules and procedures, with the perfect excuse that this is entirely a Legco matter. But she has also pledged to improve relationships between the legislative and executive branches.

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It’s more rhetoric than substance, of course. The government dearly wants to curb filibustering and restrict Legco’s ability to investigate officials.

The opposition knows it is running out of options, therefore the desperate appeal for talks. In fact, if its members are clever, they could offer a quid pro quo by voting for a “thank you” motion for Lam’s first policy address and her non-binding motion on joint checkpoints – in exchange for talks and delays for rewriting the rule book. Both motions are quite immaterial.

But such a “friendly” gesture would put the loyalists in a quandary. That may be what the opposition is trying to do by proposing talks.