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Legislative Council elections 2016

Ready for battle? Doubts surface about Legco novices as average age of Hong Kong lawmakers falls to 49

Analysts question if young lawmakers have the experience needed to scrutinise government proposals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 9:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 2:06am

The average age of Hong Kong’s lawmakers sworn in next month will be 49, making it the youngest chamber since the handover in 1997.

While the breakthrough of young guns in the Legislative Council elections on September 4 has been widely reported, a study by the Post has revealed the hard numbers of a more youthful, less experienced council, prompting concern about whether their lack of experience will affect the legislature’s operations and its ability to monitor the government.

Since the first Legco after the handover, the average age of legislators when first elected had hovered above 50, with the figure climbing over the years to around 54 in 2012.

That has now dropped to 49. While only seven lawmakers were below the age of 40 when elected in 2012, this time there were 17 winners below that age. At just 23, Demosisto’s Nathan Law Kwun-chung was the youngest.

More significantly, only 10 have more than a decade of experience in the council chamber, compared with 20 in the previous term.

Dr Chung Kim-wah, a political scientist at Polytechnic University, said it was difficult for the young legislator-elects to be well-prepared to take up their new roles.

“The political environment in Hong Kong changed very abruptly in recent years and many parties had to quickly push their younger, less experienced members into the limelight,” he said. “Many weren’t well-known beforehand and some didn’t even have much experience in working at district level.”

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While several localist election winners have warned of more filibustering tactics to oppose government bills, Chung feared that when it came to the more technical aspects of legislative work, less experienced lawmakers might also slow down the whole process.

The generational changing of the guard is more pronounced in the pro-democracy camp, as the newly elected pan-democrats and localists are on average just 44 – nine years younger than those elected in the previous term.

By contrast, the average age of pro-establishment legislators dipped only slightly, from 55 in 2012 to 53 this year.

Scrutinising legislation is a very specialised skill. It takes time to learn
Political scientist Ivan Choy

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said while the pan-democratic camp had played the role of critiquing and taking apart government proposals in the past, the influx of newcomers might weaken the camp’s ability to do so over the next four years.

“Scrutinising legislation is a very specialised skill. It takes time to learn. In the coming term, the government may find it easier to pass legislation, as the devil is in the details,” he said.

Choy added that the young legislators might not be as skilled as the veterans in negotiating with the government.

The Democratic Party’s James To Kun-sun, who has served in the legislature since 1991 and is now the most experienced pan-democratic legislator, dismissed such concerns.

“There is a group of very experienced research officers and political assistants working in Legco,” he said. “In the Democratic Party, for example, even if we have three newcomers, the Legco team hasn’t changed. So the more experienced assistants will be assigned to help the less experienced legislators.”

When To was first elected, he was only 28 and the youngest legislator then. He admitted he was not well-prepared but he learnt on the job.

“Regardless of their age, all the newcomers will need to work very hard,” he said.