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Monday, September 5, 2016, 02:13

HK needs a new and constructive LegCo

By Staff writer

The 2016 Legislative Council (LegCo) elections saw one of the highest voter turnouts on record to pick their choices for Hong Kong’s sixth legislature since the handover. The reasons for the high turnout rate have yet to be analyzed by political pundits, but it’s reasonable to surmise that it’s not just because of Sunday’s fine weather or the intense competition among the largest number of candidates in LegCo election history. Voters came out in force, it’s believed, to fend off the intrusion of separatists into this cornerstone of the HKSAR’s rule of law and to make a change in this once noble institution.

The fear of separatists infiltrating into our lawmaking body was understandable after a radical localist candidate won more-than-expected votes in a LegCo by-election in the New Territories East geographical constituency earlier this year. The fear grew as separatist forces seemed to be unwilling to stop their attempt to expand their influence, even to schools. The LegCo is an institution that is too significant to be swayed by separatist ideas that go against all the core values Hong Kong people uphold.

Although the nominations of the most radical separatists had been disqualified by returning officers who courageously discharged their legal gate-keeping duties despite immense pressure and even threats from radical forces, it was still vital to keep the other candidates from the camp out of the legislature.

Another reason for voters’ readiness to cast their ballots this time was to win back this vital institution which has already been seriously crippled by the undoing of the opposition lawmakers, who have brought to it chaos, disgrace and violence.

Over the past four years, these highly paid opposition legislators had turned the solemn legislative chamber into a mess, which could be summarized in a few appalling statistical figures. Through persistent filibustering, they had caused 18 adjournments of assembly and wasted 450 hours of meeting time. Calculating the salaries of all the 70 legislators, they have squandered close to HK$100 million taxpayers’ money. But that’s only a direct loss. More substantial damage has been caused by the serious delays in major and even cross-boundary infrastructure projects, which may run into billions of dollars.

While the damage done is calculable, there are also the invisible costs caused by the delay or blocking of at least four significant bills relating to people’s livelihood or economic development. But the most damaging sabotage, politically, was the opposition’s voting down of Hong Kong’s constitutional reform package, which will have far-reaching ramifications in the city’s democratic development.

As if filibustering was not enough to smear the image of the legislature, the opposition lawmakers resorted to radical behavior in the chamber. They disrupted proceedings, surrounded panel chairmen, and one of them has been prosecuted for allegedly throwing a glass of water at the Chief Executive while he was attending a question-and-answer session.

At a time of intense social division and economic uncertainties, what our society needs is a legislature that can help the administration tackle deep-rooted issues, such as housing, poverty and youth problems. Legislators should help narrow social divisions and not broaden them. They should enact laws that help galvanize economic development rather than block bills intended for that purpose.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa put it well when he spoke at a polling station on Sunday morning. Whoever elected into the new-term LegCo, he said, is tasked by voters to return to Hong Kong people a “constructive and rational legislature”.

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