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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Reconciliation far off as Legco tension rises

Following a brief honeymoon period, the usual confrontation and bickering has returned to the Legislative Council. But instead of locking horns over rules and procedures, lawmakers should put aside their differences and work towards the public good

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 12:55am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 12:55am

When Chief Executive Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor took the helm in July, hopes were high that the political divide would at least stop deepening. But as the new government and the Legislative Council get down to business following a brief honeymoon period, the usual confrontation and bickering returned.

That the Legco circus is back so quickly is regrettable. The abrupt suspension of the first sitting on Thursday is just the precursor of two looming battles, one over curbs on lawmakers’ right to filibuster and the other regarding plans to allow the stationing of mainland law enforcers at the cross-border high-speed rail terminus in West Kowloon. Hours were wasted on just ringing the quorum bell over the past few days, a strategy by the pan-democrats to derail the upcoming motion debate on the co-location arrangement. The meeting was eventually aborted due to a lack of quorum, with the pro-democracy and the establishment camps blaming each other for the mayhem.

First Hong Kong Legco meeting ends abruptly, as divisions appear to deepen

The situation is compounded further by the tussle over filibustering, as reflected in the clashes during the House Committee and the Finance Committee meetings yesterday. The establishment camp is pushing through a wealth of restrictions on rules and procedures that will substantially limit the room for filibustering, taking advantage of a shift in the balance of power following the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers. To hit back, the rival camp is flooding the legislature with their own amendments to the rule book, a tactic to procrastinate until they have won back some of the seats in the by-elections scheduled in March.

There can be no dispute that Legco efficiency has been severely compromised recently. But there are those who are sympathetic with filibustering, saying it is one of the few tools for members to block unpopular legislative and funding proposals or to pressure the government into making certain commitments. But such gestures usually achieved nothing other than frustrating the government and paralysing Legco operation.

Hong Kong opposition filibuster blocks Lam’s plan for Legco to prioritise joint checkpoint debate

While the case to put the house back in order is evident, the timing and the scope of changes pushed by the establishment camp have raised concerns. The steps taken are legitimate. But the pro-democracy camp is understandably outraged when rivals take advantage of their weakened presence to push through changes with far-reaching implications. The escalating tension does not bode well for the political reconciliation championed by the chief executive. Instead of locking horns over rules and procedures, lawmakers should put aside their differences and work towards the public good.