Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Farce of Filibuster

Over the past two weeks or so, local news headlines have been dominated by the filibuster launched by People Power legislators Albert Chan and Raymond Wong, along with chairman of the League of Social Democrats, Leung Kwok-hung. Their attempt to delay and even prevent the passing of certain "malicious" bills, such as the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2012, was dramatically thwarted by Legislative Council chairman Jasper Tsang, who cited Article 92 of the Rules of Procedures that stipulates,

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 who may, if he thinks fit, be guided by the practice and procedure of other legislatures.

Pardon me for not having followed the news story close enough, simply because the news coverage has once again failed to focus on what really matters. What a waste of time I think it was to read the needless-to-say nonsense pouring out of the tongues of those hardly honourables. If we really care about what is going on here, the city we all call "home", the first thing we need is a critical and sensible mind equipped with the essential intellectual tools.

I simply don't understand is why media and public attention has focused on whether or not the filibuster is "meaningful", implying "right" or "wrong". Of course I know time is precious and the incumbents are counting down to the end of their current term of service. To me this shows exactly how easy it is to manipulate public opinion in Hong Kong by taking side with the so-called "core values" of the local people. So many people out there take it for granted and fail to smell anything wrong in such an argument.

For most Hong Kong people, including myself, efficiency is paramount at work. But isn't it obvious that there are always plenty of exceptions to every single rule and principle? To rush through the backlog of bills, for example, is by no means what legislators are supposed – and elected – to do. As representatives of their respective constituencies, legislators are entrusted with the authority, supported by their calibre and experience in certain professions, to ponder every option and scenario and then come up with the best possible provisions. Compromises are inevitable, but, albeit ideally, that should be the result of a meaningful debate, which provides an opportunity for everyone – including members of the public – to think out loud before making up their minds.

While the pro-establishment legislators have regrettably succeeded in mobilising mainstream public opinion to support their cause, exposing the appalling naivety of the local people, the pro-democracy camp does not come clean in the farce either. It is perfectly fine that they don't participate in the filibuster if they don't think it is the proper way. But don't they share an obligation to keep the public mind abreast of what issues are at stake? Have they ever attempted to steer public opinion that has been led astray deliberately back to the right course? Pardon me if they did. But as someone who reads the newspapers every day at work I don't recall any meaningful reminder. Only hours of tedious search on the poorly designed and enormously user-unfriendly web site of the Legislative Council can inform me of which bill the filibuster was meant for. Amendments were minimal, but it was the objective of the bill that is highly controversial,

The object of this Bill is to introduce a restriction to prohibit a person who has resigned, or is taken to have resigned, as a Member of the Legislative Council from standing for a by-election to be held within the 6 months after the resignation in the same term of office of the Legislative Council.

Those who are interested may also find a copy of the Legislative Council Brief submitted by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau on 1 February, which provides a detailed and useful account of the development of the issue. This only reminds us of how easy it is to manipulate public opinion and take it out of context for one's benefit, and thus how important a clear and cool head is among all of us if we don't want to become a laughing stock and, worse still, scapegoat.

The recent farce of filibuster, therefore, pinpoints not just the frustrating mediocrity of the legislators but also at our own lack of intellectual capabilities to defend against such mediocrity.

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