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How Hong Kong democrats’ filibustering plan on joint checkpoint motion backfired

Albert Cheng says Eddie Chu’s move to have the media withdraw from Legco clearly arose from pan-democrats’ desperation over immigration co-location plans, but they should ask themselves if losing the moral high ground on press freedom was worth it

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 7:18pm

Speaking at a forum titled “The country and Hong Kong”, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying said: “There is an act that is illegal anywhere anytime – which is murder, and it will receive the harshest punishment. But there is an exception … [it] is not illegal to kill someone in the name of the country.”

One of Leung’s most significant services to Beijing was the disqualification of six lawmakers. This has disempowered the pro-democracy camp, as they are no longer able to exercise their veto. Since Legislative Council meetings resumed, pan-democrats have been undermined by the pro-establishment side, which is also planning to change the rules of procedure, to curb their opponents’ filibustering tactics.

The despairing pan-democrats had no choice but to stand their ground and fight back. Even the mildest member exhausted all means at their disposal to delay the passing of the non-binding motion on the co-location arrangement at the express rail link’s West Kowloon terminus. They had hoped to drag out proceedings until the by-elections next March, when they might have stood a chance to regain their veto power. However, the motion was passed at the Legco meeting on Wednesday.

Four more make it six for disqualified Hong Kong lawmakers

The filibuster battle of the past few weeks revealed Eddie Chu Hoi-dick as the lawmaker undoubtedly most familiar with the rules of procedure. He deployed a rare tactic, citing Article 54(4) of the rules, which had not been used since 1997. He put forward a motion proposing that the Banking (Amendment) Bill 2017 not be sent back to the House Committee; and that the Legco general council review the bill at that particular meeting instead. This was to block the start of the motion debate on the joint checkpoint arrangement.

The unexpected move worked well and stalled the Legco meeting for hours. However, Chu did not stop there. After that, he cited Article 88(1), which states a lawmaker can request that members of the press and public withdraw from the chamber. The pro-establishment camp and the government were caught completely unprepared for this. Hence, the co-location motion was not passed in the two Legco meetings.

Express Rail Link: “co-location clearance, one-stop convenience”

Legco debate on joint rail checkpoint adjourned after meeting descends into chaos

However, Chu’s move came at a price. The Hong Kong News Executives’ Association (HKNEA), which has already submitted to the government, issued a statement about his action, saying it was destructive to press freedom. Despite the understandable motive behind Chu’s request, the Hong Kong Journalists Association, seemingly having no choice, expressed disappointment at the move.

Regardless of the hypocritical mainstream media, Chu has made himself look bad

However, pro-establishment mainstream media associations like the HKNEA are all hypocrites. When it really mattered, they have never spoken up for freedom of the press and free speech. Some have even censored sensitive news that portrayed the government in a bad light. And they failed to support calls to grant online media (those without a print edition) access to government press conferences and press releases.

However, regardless of the hypocritical mainstream media, Chu has made himself look bad, as what he did was undoubtedly against the principle of the Basic Law. It would now be difficult for him to take the moral high ground, and exercise his power as a lawmaker to criticise and monitor the government’s actions. Such a double-edged sword should not have been swung, unless it had been at a critical moment. With regard to this non-binding motion, Chu’s move only served to delay the meetings; it did not turn the tide.

The most destructive and powerful tactic should always be saved for last. Now that this new strategy has been revealed, it is very unlikely that the pan-democrats will be able to use it again, as the pro-establishment camp will not be fooled twice.

The pan-democrats should give serious thought to whether Chu’s tactic was the best approach, given that it appeared to undermine freedom of the press and speech.

Everyone needs to remain on high alert during political struggles. Strategies must not be used freely without serious and thorough consideration, and a clear line of follow-up action.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]