Legislative Council elections 2016

Chaos on first day bodes ill for the proper functioning of Legco

Unless our legislature puts its house in order – and soon – the people’s business will sit idle on the back burner

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 3:35am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2016, 3:36am

There is no worse way to begin the new Legislative Council term than by bringing the chamber into disrepute in the very first sitting. From members taking their oath of office to electing the council’s president, the proceedings were disrupted by shameful antics and scuffles. This state of near-anarchy does not bode well for the new term. If the deplorable situation prevails for the next four years, effective governance will be severely undermined.

Declaration of war as Hong Kong’s newly elected lawmakers plunge opening session into chaos

First Legco meetings used to be a straightforward affairs. The 70 lawmakers were to take turns to be sworn in, followed by the election of the president. Yesterday, the oath-taking was used by some members to make political statements. Some even changed the wording of the oath; others brought banners and other artefacts to make their point.

Such antics in oath-taking are not new. But when they involve alterations that effectively cast doubt on the validity of the oath, it raises questions about whether the member has been sworn in according to the law and whether they can discharge their duties, including electing the chamber’s president.

Hong Kong’s coughing, yelling lawmakers don’t stick to the script

So politically charged was the atmosphere that the vote on the president erupted into controversy. The Basic Law states that the Legco chief should not hold foreign right of abode. The belated move by Beijing-friendly Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen to relinquish his British nationality so he could stand for Legco presidentunderstandably gave the rival camp ammunition to challenge his eligibility for the top post.

Even though Leung produced his correspondence with the British authorities as evidence, critics were unconvinced and insisted on deferring the vote pending proper certification. Leung was finally elected despite the chaos.

Legco’s image has already been marred by incessant filibustering and the unruly behaviour of some members. Worryingly, the situation in the new Legco appears to be even worse. Some members have little regard for procedures, including the new faces who were associated with the Occupy protests of 2014. They still behave more like street activists than lawmakers. Relations between the two rival camps in Legco also remain tense and could deteriorate further.

That the new Legco is becoming dysfunctional even before its real work has begun is regrettable. Constitutionally, the legislature provides checks and balances while working with the administration to approve bills and funding for public projects. But it cannot fulfil its duties without first putting its house in order.