11 January 2020
The Legco House Committee has virtually ground to a standstill since the start of the current legislative session in October last year. Photo: Bloomberg
The Legco House Committee has virtually ground to a standstill since the start of the current legislative session in October last year. Photo: Bloomberg

Why the pro-Beijing camp is tolerating Legco filibusters

Over the past three months, the House Committee of the Legislative Council has already held 11 meetings, all of which were presided by lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang of the Civic Party. But up to now, it has been unable to elect a chairperson and a deputy chairperson.

As a result, the Legco House Committee has virtually ground to a standstill since the start of the current legislative session in October last year.

Amid the stalemate, pro-establishment lawmakers have been lashing out at Kwok during the House Committee meetings, while the government, through the official blog of Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, has been lambasting the pan-democrats for their filibusters.

Intriguingly though, while both the government and the pro-Beijing camp appear dismayed by the gridlock, the reality is, according to a pro-establishment figure, the current state of affairs in Legco may actually do more good than harm to the pan-dems, the pro-establishment camp and even the administration.

As the source explained, the 2020 Legco election is only some eight months away, and the fact that the House Committee remains in a vegetative state might not necessarily be a bad thing for the pro-establishment camp.

That’s because instead of getting stranded in the Legco building every Friday afternoon and wasting time on endless squabbles at the committee meetings, pro-establishment lawmakers now have more time at their disposal to focus on work relating to their districts and case follow-ups, or meet with different groups in order to consolidate their support base.

Meanwhile, the pro-Beijing figure pointed out, the government is just sitting on the sidelines and allowing the filibusters to go unchecked because it doesn’t have any new bill to submit to Legco for scrutiny for the time being, and officials from various bureaus won’t have to attend meetings of different bill committees or subcommittees to get grilled by lawmakers.

As such, the administration is just waiting and looking at how things are going at the House Committee.

On Thursday, Legco President?Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen adjourned the meeting early due to lack of quorum as the government sought to push a bill extending maternity leave from 10 to 14 weeks.

Legco had been debating a motion by Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong for the maternity leave bill to be passed on to Legco’s Panel on Manpower, instead of following the usual procedure of putting it before the House Committee.

Law said that given the unusual circumstances at the Legco House Committee, he could only resort to unusual means to push the bill.

Another government figure agrees that the?standstill at the House Committee has provided a perfect excuse for the administration to postpone submitting highly sensitive bills such as the National Anthem Law to Legco for the resumption of second reading and thereby avoid triggering a new round of mass protests.

By allowing the filibusters to go on, the government will not only be able to lay the blame on the pan-dems for stalling the legislature’s normal operations but also avoid giving the impression that it is succumbing to public pressure and shelving the national anthem bill, the source said.

From the perspective of the pan-dems, mounting filibusters in Legco could have alienated moderate voters in the past.

However, since the outbreak of the protest movement, peaceful, rational and non-violent citizens have become increasingly receptive to filibusters as a means to stonewall the passage of “evil laws”.

Given that, the pan-dems believe the standstill at the Legco House Committee as a result of their relentless filibusters is unlikely to upset their supporters. Hence, there is no need to pull their punches.

But while the standstill?appears to be working in everyone’s favor, it can’t go on forever. After the September election, the new Legco will have to deal with this problem one way or another.

According to another pro-establishment figure, the pan-dems can continue with their filibusters until mid-May.

But no matter how much they try to stall the election of the House Committee chairperson, the source said, the key position sooner or later will have to go to a member of the pro-establishment camp.

Once that happens, the pro-Beijing bloc can swiftly amend the House Rules, and the meetings of the committee will no longer be presided by the longest-serving lawmaker but by a staff member of the Legco Secretariat.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 4

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.