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Monday, July 25, 2016, 00:44

New LegCo chief must get tough with filibustering, veteran lawmaker urges

By Joseph Li

New LegCo chief must get tough with filibustering, veteran lawmaker urges
Legislator Chan Kam-lam. (Roy Liu / China Daily)
Veteran Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) legislator Chan Kam-lam, who’s retiring and will not stand in September’s Legislative Council (LegCo) elections, is one of the few lawmakers who have never lost in a LegCo election.

In an interview with China Daily, Chan, who was first elected in 1995, says the city’s legislative system has not changed much since he entered the LegCo chamber 21 years ago, but there have been a lot of changes when it comes to members.

In the old days, he recalls, lawmakers were more polite and well-behaved — contrary to the destructive filibusters, disturbances and misconduct of radical and non-compliant lawmakers we see at LegCo meetings these days.

Commenting on Jasper Tsang Yok-sing’s LegCo presidency from 2008 to 2016, Chan says Tsang had done well during his first term but, in his last four years, things had gone out of control, and Tsang should have “adjusted the exercise of his powers in the light of a faltering environment, plagued by impolite speeches and behavior, disruptive disturbances and prolonged filibusters”.

“But, I think he’ll disagree with me,” he says of his party colleague and long-time friend.

As for the next LegCo term, Chan believes that order and discipline will depend largely on the new president with regard to how he or she will lead the legislature.

“It’s not easy to tighten it up, knowing that many non-complying lawmakers will continue to challenge the president and the rules. But, it’s not impossible. We need someone who is fair, impartial and is very familiar with the legislature’s operation and the Rules of Procedure. The new president also has to know when to exercise his/her powers in an appropriate manner,” says Chan.

As to how to deal with filibustering, the long-time lawmaker reckons that the LegCo president has full authority to stop members from delaying and wasting time. Although one can speak more than once at the committee stage, it does not mean the member can repeat a subject all over again and the president must stop the legislator if his speech is repetitive and irrelevant.

Chan agrees that the quorum bell is being abused. In his view, the quorum is needed during important stages like voting, resumption of second and third readings but it may not be needed all the time.

He also thinks it’s reasonable to limit debates within a certain number of hours so that everyone can know when the debate will end like a soccer match. In fact, Tsang had applied this rule during the debate on the 2016-17 Budget.

“The next LegCo president must also have political grit to tighten up. He must have a good understanding with the pro-establishment camp with a view to enforcing the Rules of Procedure in a no-nonsense manner,” Chan suggests.

Referring to the ill-fated Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016, which was dragged down by the abusive use of the quorum bell by medical constituency lawmaker Leung Ka-lau to protect doctors’ interests in defiance of patients’ rights, Chan believes that Tsang could have done better in handling the three bills.

“If we had known how much meeting time we would have in the last two weeks before the term lapsed (say 50 hours), we should have allocated more time for the medical bill and less time for the private columbaria and fire services bills so that we could finish examining them on time.”

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