Hong Kong legislative chief Jasper Tsang is right to curb filibusters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 6:56am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 5:26pm

The Legislative Council's vote on the government budget is likely to be less drawn out this year after Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing sensibly curtailed the notoriously tedious filibuster by blocking thousands of amendments tabled by "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung. The decision is to be welcomed. This is the third year in which a handful of rebels have sought to drag out the process with frivolous amendments.

What sets this filibuster apart from the previous ones is the sheer number of amendments. A record 3,904 amendments have been submitted, up from 762 in 2013 and 1,917 last year. Leung alone filed 3,349 proposals. Tsang said such amendments had not generated meaningful debate in the past. Considering the hours spent on clearing them - 67 in 2013 and 83 last year - this year's vote would have taken even longer had all of the amendments been tabled.

The Basic Law has set out the functions of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It is incumbent upon Legco to discharge its duties properly, including completing the budget scrutiny within reasonable time. As the president, Tsang has the duty to ensure the council's business is conducted in an efficient manner. He has rightly exercised his power to strike down those amendments that serve no useful purpose other than to prolong the procedure. But Leung accused Tsang of bowing to government pressure, saying members' right to initiate amendments had been unduly restricted.

There are still 618 amendments to clear, including 300-plus tabled by Leung and his two allies. The process is expected to last until early June. With the crucial vote on electoral reform due before the summer break, there is no room for time-wasting and ultimately futile strategies. It is good that the pan-democrats have steered clear of the delaying tactics and agreed to work with the pro-establishment camp to ensure that Legco proceedings will not be aborted due to the lack of a quorum.

The use of filibusters to delay or block unpopular bills is not uncommon in the West.

In Hong Kong, such a strategy was adopted for the first time in 2012, with the purpose of pushing the government into introducing a universal pension scheme. But the theatrics have become increasingly common, so much so that legitimate and important public projects and spending bills are held back. The abuse has to be curbed.