A ‘loophole’ defending a ‘loophole’

Chief Executive-elect CY Leung warns legislators not to ‘play politics’ – which raises the question of what exactly we elect them to do. The lawmakers concerned are the radicals of People Power and the League of Social Democrats currently attempting to filibuster the government’s by-elections bill. The pro-government forces are seeking to portray the spoiling tactics as an irresponsible waste of time and, of course, money. The pan-democrats are, as ever, splintered and not articulating a convincing defence of their position (or positions).

The by-elections bill was prompted by the ‘five constituencies referendum’ in February 2010. One pro-democrat legislator from each geographical constituency resigned, thus triggering by-elections that, they maintained, could serve as a direct, popular vote on a single issue. This stunt – occasionally used in fully democratic jurisdictions – could have worked magnificently had the pro-democrats chosen an appropriate time and purpose. Instead, it was a flop.

The Democratic Party didn’t take part but just sat by in a huff. The pro-government parties were under orders not to take part in the by-elections, leaving the polls one-horse races and pointless. And the burning issue of principle over which the five resigned was constitutional reform – of endless fascination to them, but mind-numbingly uninspiring by then to most of the population.

To Beijing’s officials, however, this mechanism posed a serious theoretical threat to the Hong Kong government’s legitimacy and ability to rule, and thus ultimately to Communist Party control. Although a by-election could never serve as a true, binding referendum, it could be presented as one, and even accepted as one by the populace. To cadres who are uncomfortable enough with plain everyday opinion polls, legislators’ ability to trigger a by-election had to go.

Calling the stunt a loophole, and emphasizing the financial cost of by-elections, the government set out to do Beijing’s bidding. Officials found, however, that leaving vacated seats empty would be unconstitutional, and passing them on to runners-up in the previous election too absurd for the public to accept. Eventually, they found a sort-of solution to address what they called the Mischief arising from resignations of five Legislative Council Members. It bars a resigning legislator from running again for six months, but it could still be used to trigger a by-election/quasi-referendum. Beijing probably doesn’t really like it. Public opinion seems unmoved. The only positive outcome, if you can call it that, is that then-Constitutional Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam emerged with his role as a paid liar intact.

Now the bill is being filibustered. As with the by-election stunt, Beijing’s officials in Hong Kong will be telling their local counterparts to ban such procedural sabotage; again, the device is, theoretically, ultimately a challenge to the Communist Party’s right to absolute political power. And again, we hear these tactics described as an ‘abuse’ or a ‘loophole’.

Although we have all heard of filibusters elsewhere, it’s not often we get to see one up-close (pro-establishment lawmakers and then-Constitutional Affairs Secretary Michael Suen did it in 1999 to kill off the Urban and Regional Councils, but no-one’s mentioning that at the moment). They’re incredibly hard work. CY Leung would like the electorate to take revenge against lawmakers using such tactics in September’s elections. Another possibility is that the radical legislators will attract a new wave of admiring voters for their stamina and determination in introducing 1,300 amendments and quoting chunks of scripture at snail-pace in the chamber. Indeed, both could happen. Hong Kong has not seen the last electoral fun in 2012.

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11 Responses to A ‘loophole’ defending a ‘loophole’

  1. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Thanks for this reminder of how the simplest procedural molehill is turned into a constitutional mountain range. Struggling as our leaders are to switch from benign colonialism to devious neo-imperialism, they are only too used to ignoring such principles as truth, the rule of law or honesty in their desperate search for quick and easy administrative measures to shore up the leaking illegal add-ons and wobbling ad-hoc extensions long enough for them to flee to higher ground.

    Maybe the Greeks could be brought in to advise on good governance?

  2. maugrim says:

    1. They are worried about the cost and the waste of money? One hopes that such concern will set a precedent with regards to all kinds of Government expenditure from announcements regarding the dangers of hot pot to the building of useless intrastrucure.

    2. Good luck C.Y. finding loopholes is HK’s national sport. Nothing wrong in that at all. No matter what rules are put up, HK’ers are always smart enough to spot a loophole and legally use it to an advantage.

    3. Word is that C.Y. is deliberately appointing secretaries with little or no experience in their area so that the ‘Emperor’ can maintain power. There is also an interesting similarity personality wise if you start connecting the dots between the appointmments made so far in some areas. The possibility of ‘wolfish’ type behaviour is a common strain in some areas.

  3. Bela Lugosi, SC says:

    Can there be anything more dumb than the sight of so-called progressive legislators opposing the will of the first progressive Governor we have had since the handover? They have completely lost the plot.

    Perhaps the problem is that there are so many barristers amongst them. They think they are on hundred-thousand-a-day refreshers.

    If only we had a decent progressive political party which was not bogged down in armchair theories about something called democracy (incidentally, most UK governments are elected by 35% of 65% of the eligible voters) we might eventually get somewhere. It would also help if the Democrats could bring themselves to talk to the oiks in Kwun Tong, Shamshuipo and other districts they know practically nothing about.

  4. darovia says:

    I mentioned before that HK should buy Greece, and I will say it again. As we stand here (almost) on the threshold of democracy we should be excited and aglow with Grecian fervour or Grecian 2000. This is (almost) history in the making and we are (almost) a part of it! instead, ‘mind numbing’ is hardly a strong enough compound adjective to describe how people feel. The pro-dems are proving to be BJ’s best weapon.

  5. Klaxon says:

    Seems like Cantonese is a language particularly ill-suited for filibustering.

  6. Hong Kong Foot In Mouth Awards 2012 says:

    ” I do not see myself repeating my previous past.”

    Henry Tang (RTHK – 15th May 2012)

  7. Stephen says:

    @Hong Kong Foot in Mouth Awards 2012

    Like the Pro-China Morning Post I long ago gave up on RTHK as a provider of news but your post tweaked my interest – Why was this discredited fool given airtime?

    PS its only May and ‘King of LKF’ Dr. Allen Semen is getting way to much media attention at the moment and it won’t be long before he is chewing on shoe leather once again and winning the award.

  8. Pete says:

    How is the SCMP pro-China? It has 4-6 pages of China coverage every day, much of which is investigative and quite critical.

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ BL “The first progressive Governor … since the handover” ?

    Is this dracula revisited or have you been bitten in the neck and been converted ? 😉

    But more to the point : go to the “mischief arising from resignations… etc” link above, which leads you to a govt consultation doc (in imperial yellow / emperor use only ) which leads you to the annex of said doc ( scroll to the end) which explains how our govt does its “public consultation” , thus explaining why I have never been consulted on any issue in 30 years by the govt, although I pay my fair due in taxes.

    Of course I have never been consulted because I don’t belong to any of these silly industry associations , chambers of commerce, etc. ( as indeed, neither do 99% of HK’s plebs like me)

    Mystery solved courtesy of Hemlock. Idiocy of govt proved, also courtesy of Mr H.

    PS: @ Pete : Amen – some very good stuff in the SCMP

  10. Kan says:

    No filibuster, no by-election hijacking…nothing for the Pan-Democrats because they are just complete morons. People Power already have a list of a few bills to filibuster and to me it looks a child was given a sword and he’s going to play with it until someone’s head get cut off by accident. Whatever works for most Democracy does not apply to HK because we lack people with political intellilgence and foresight here.
    Until we have some real adults in Legco, I think we shouldn’t even be compared to any real democracy.

  11. Revolution says:

    In today’s Standard Ron Arculli described the filibuster as “An abuse of the political process that does not comform with democratic principles”,

    This would also serve as an excellent description of Ron Arculli’s own role in the governence of Hong Kong.

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