Face Off: Should filibustering be banned in the Legislative Council?

Joy Pamnani (JR)

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week’s topic is ...

Joy Pamnani (JR) |

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Lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung argues with former lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing over filibustering.

Joseph Ho Hei-chi, 21, University of Hong Kong

Filibustering ought to be banned mainly because elected lawmakers shouldn’t have their right to speak taken away from them. Lawmakers get to talk about things that affect people’s well-being. For example, they shouldn’t be hampered from proposing ideas to improve hospital and education services.

Some people argue that filibustering, which involves making a very long speech until a motion is delayed or withdrawn, safeguards the privileges of free speech enjoyed by an elected representative. The problem with this tactic is that it hinders the ability of lawmakers to protect people’s interests.

But banning filibustering will only work if the legislature is democratically elected. Otherwise, those in power would feel like they are free to ignore the people that they represent. That’s why filibustering is sort of useful right now.

Before we ban filibustering, we must ensure that all members of the Legislative Council are elected by the people. At the moment, some democrats and radical localists can take up a lot of time filibustering. This is because they represent the public, and taking away their right to filibuster means you take away the voice of the people objecting to what’s going on in the chamber. If Legco were fully democratic, then there would be no need for filibustering.

Banning filibustering also would lead to more productive debates. In the US Senate, a cloture is a process for ending a debate and taking a vote. It needs to be supported by a minimum of three-fifths of the total number of Senate members. If Hong Kong implemented such a system, we could also end a debate simply by having a majority of lawmakers support it. The time spent on a debate would be limited by how many people supported it (rather than how long someone can prolong it with pointless talk), so legislators would actually highlight the most pressing issues first. Legislaters have the right to speak on things for as long as they like, but it’s wrong for them to abuse that power to deliberately delay important issues from being discussed.

Joy Pamnani, 18, University of Hong Kong

There have been many heated debates in the Legislative Council over the past few years, and many controversial bills were “killed” by filibustering. Although it is seen as a disruption of government operations, it is actually an effective method to encourage the discussion of issues that affect Hongkongers.

When passing a bill, often only the views of a few affected stakeholders are heard, and important decisions are made without considering their impact on the community. Because of this, filibustering is a useful way to draw attention to issues that have not been properly discussed; it essentially helps stop legislators from using their position to pass every single bill.

A good example of this is the 2016-17 budget, which many legislators believed was designed to only benefit the wealthy. Filibustering meant legislators proposed amendments to the budget, preventing the “original” bill from being passed. The result was a more comprehensive motion that focused not only on economic development, but also promoting talent, using land resources effectively, and caring about people’s livelihood.

Filibustering is a good way to incorporate popular public sentiment into government policy. For example, look at US President Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as the country’s new secretary of education. There was public outcry because DeVos didn’t appear to know anything about education. It seemed that the only reason she was picked was because she had made a lot of financial contributions to the Republican Party. The Trump administration began to take the issue seriously only after US presidential contender Bernie Sanders stepped up to pose some serious questions to DeVos during her confirmation hearing.

In Hong Kong, the people’s opinions often aren’t given a moment’s thought when a bill is being passed in the Legislative Council. That’s why, as in the case of the Copyright Amendment bill, legislators will filibuster – because they believe that they’re fighting for the interests of the people. For a city that says it’s committed to upholding the values of freedom of speech and expression while serving in the best interests of its citizens, I think we should continue to allow filibustering in Hong Kong.

Edited by Ginny Wong