My Take

There goes the power to filibuster, and it’s all the pan-dems’ own fault

The disqualification of six opposition lawmakers gives the establishment camp a golden chance to change the voting rules in the Legislative Council, depriving the pan-dems of one of their weapons of choice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 3:06am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 3:06am

Among opposition supporters, it’s a widespread belief that the government launched lawsuits to disqualify six of their lawmakers – for failing to swear their oaths of office properly – to steal their elected majority in the Legislative Council.

In other words, the nefarious scheme of the previous administration of Leung Chun-ying was to achieve a super-majority – in both the geographical and functional constituencies – for its Legco friends. Let us remember, though, that the pan-dems have always been in the minority within the functional section, which represents social, professional, industrial and religious groupings.

Time for mudfest by-election where the two Hong Kong camps reveal their true colours

There is no doubt that the central and Hong Kong governments, and their allies in Legco, would love to have a rubber-stamp legislature for the next four years. But realistically, that’s not possible, unless you ban by-elections as well. That, alas, is not an option, even for Beijing.

In any upcoming by-elections, judging by their post-1997 election records, the pan-dems are likely to win back most of their lost seats. That would restore roughly the traditional 40-60 ratio of seats respectively for pan-dems and their pro-establishment rivals in Legco as a reflection of voter preference under the current system. It’s true that opposition lawmakers may lose seats stemming from civil lawsuits launched by private individuals over their oath-taking. However, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Federation of Trade Unions and other pro-establishment parties simply don’t have enough credible candidates to compete for all those elected seats and win.

Court ruling disqualifying Hong Kong lawmakers over oath-taking controversy ‘a declaration of war’

My guess is that the pan-dems will, one way or another, regain their majority in the geographical constituencies after the by-elections. But what they will lose – and this is a big loss for them – is their ability to filibuster against government bills. Assuming government-friendly lawmakers – with their temporary super-majority – don’t squander this golden opportunity, they will move to change voting procedures in Legco. This could mean restricting lawmakers from asking too many questions for too long and empowering committee chairmen to shut them up.

Filibustering has its uses, but thanks to their own miscalculations, the opposition is about to lose it as a weapon for a long time to come.