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Loopholes for filibustering must be plugged

  At about 1.00pm yesterday, President of Legislative Council (Legco) Jasper Tsang Yok-shing formally announced to terminate the debate over the Budget bill.  This declared that the month-long "filibuster" by the opposition*ended in*failure eventually.

  After "*cutting off* the filibuster", the Legco still needs several days to vote one by one the more than 700 revisions on the Budget bill.  As such, the opposition still has a chance to play new tricks to delay the passage of the bill.  Despite this, for all citizens, cutting off the filibuster has thwarted the opposition's plot to harm Hong Kong's interests and steered the legislature back to the right track.  And it has also enabled Hong Kong to escape a "fiscal cliff" and the government's operation and social development to advance smoothly.  No doubt, this decision is to the great satisfaction of the people.

  As a matter of fact, in view either of the Basic Law's constitutional stipulations on the Legco or of the powers delegated to the Legco President, Tsang Yok-shing's decision yesterday could be described as fair, legal and reasonable.  For, it not only further clarified the original nature of lawmakers and the legislature but also *laid the foundations for* dealing with any unreasonable filibustering activity by the Legco President in future

  From the constitutional high ground, "cutting off the filibuster" is a legal move.  Article 72 of the Basic Law stipulates that the Legco President shall exercise the power to "preside over meetings"; and the Legco's power as stipulated on Article 73 is "to examine and approve budgets [introduced by the government]".  Such stipulations are meant that, firstly, the President is empowered to ensure the normal operation of Legco - including *seeing to it that* its agenda would not be delayed by prolonged and repeated speeches; secondly, the Legco should debate and pass a budget bill on a reasonable basis.  But what had happened was on the contrary - the opposition's utterly absurd filibuster had almost paralysed the legislature.  If this were not to be stopped, then not only the Basic Law's constitutional stipulations on the Legco and its President would have been violated but the Legco's normal functions and role would have been jeopardised as well.

  From the Legco's operation, "cutting off the filibuster" is a reasonable move.  Undeniably, in a Legco debate, sufficient freedom of speech by a lawmaker must be ensured, which is also a necessary condition for the Legco's normal operation.  But what people had seen was that freedom of speech in the legislature was being seriously eroded by the opposition's filibustering activity and the Legoc was losing its basic functions.  Article 92 of the Legco Rules of Procedure stipulates that "[In any matter not provided for in these Rules of Procedure,] the practice and procedure to be followed in the Council shall be such as may be decided by the President…"  Before the Rules of Procedure is revised, the President absolutely has the power to make a decision to safeguard the Legco's operation.

  In fact, in its refusal to Leung Kwok Hung's application for a judicial review in May, 2012, the High Court already clearly pointed out that "What the Applicant and other legislators participated in filibustering wished to achieve is not the proper expression of their views. Rather they wished to continue with the committee debate of the amendments indefinitely to obstruct the legislative process"; and that "If there is a right to filibuster, the proceedings of the Legislative Council could be hijacked by a handful of legislators for an indefinite period of time.  The legislative process could come to a grinding halt and the Legislative Council would not be performing its constitutional function…"   Tsang Yok-shing had to decisively cut off the filibuster, in order to honour the High Court's ruling.

  From the factual situation, "cutting off the filibuster" is a necessary move.  Different from last year's "filibustering", this time it was on the government's Budget bill, which affected not only government departments but also the 160,000 civil servants and all seven million Hong Kong citizens.  As public opinion had repeatedly pointed out, if the budget failed to be passed, it would not only become *a laughing stock of* the international community, but also shake international investors' confidence in Hong Kong, and seriously damage Hong Kong's economy and people's livelihood.  The development of the situation also showed that the public had already become deeply disgusted by the opposition's reckless move to avenge a personal wrong in the name of public interests.  Therefore, general social situation and popular will has ruled that "cutting off the filibuster" is a necessary move.

  Hong Kong is a society with the rule of law.  Tsang Yok-shing's decision yesterday to cut off the filibuster is in accord with laws, in response to lawmakers' appeals, and complies with popular will.  It could be said a decision winning people's hearts.  But at the same time, we must see that "filibuster" itself is for the opposition to take political revenge by making use of loopholes in the Legco Rules of Procedure, with an attempt to create trouble in Hong Kong out of their personal interests.  They by no means will give up such activity.  Consequently, for the sake of long-lasting peace and stability in Hong Kong and for the sake of the legislature's normal operation, it is now an important matter that brooks no delay to revise the Legco Rules of Procedures to restrict lawmakers' motions to revise a bill, so as to prevent any similar absurd filibustering activity from happening again.

  15 May 2013

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