With the term of the current Legislative Council ending on Friday night, its president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has said that its work over the past four years cannot be described as very satisfactory, but the majority of the lawmakers have fulfilled their responsibilities under the existing system.
Tsang highlighted the filibuster during the past four years at a news conference on Friday summarizing the work of LegCo since 2012. He said he believed the total meeting time was the longest ever – 2,174 hours across 143 meetings. The last term – between 2008 and 2012 – saw a total of 1,908 hours of meeting time.
On 1,478 occasions, lawmakers called for headcounts – consuming more than 220 hours, Tsang said. The tactic is often used as a filibuster to delay controversial bills. Tsang added that headcounts were called for 596 times since last October alone and that he expected the number to surpass 600 by midnight when the term officially ends.
During the past four years, 18 meetings were cut short due to inadequate attendance. There have been 11 such occasions since last October.
Headcounts triggered by lawmakers can prompt a 15-minute waiting period as other lawmakers are invited to return to the chamber to maintain a minimum presence of 35 members. Lawmakers can also launch filibusters by making long speeches, each may last up to 15 minutes.
Following the rules
Tsang said that some people accused him of not stopping filibusters in order to create problems for the government, but he said it was his job to strictly follow the rules of procedure of the LegCo.
“The rules of procedure, the Basic Law, and the relevant laws did not provide lawmakers with so-called rights of filibuster,” he said. “They did not provide the LegCo president an absolute right to cut filibustering short at his will.”
He said he could only remind lawmakers not to repeat their speeches, and that he cannot not stop them from speaking.
Tsang said it was not only the government to blame for causing filibustering. “It is unfair to say that it was because the government was unwilling to make changes,” he said.
Citing the Medical Council reform bill as an example, he said that if a bill was receiving majority support in the council but encountered a filibuster by a minority of lawmakers, it would be unfair to the public who support the bill.
Tsang also spoke of a long list of achievements, such as the passing of 83 out of the 89 bills the government proposed. Three were still under debate, and three were rejected, withdrawn or not submitted for a second reading. The chamber passed 557 pieces of subsidiary legislation and debated 125 non-binding motions.
“Some say that the LegCo was completely ineffective, or unable to do its duties – it is not true and not fair,” he said.
Tsang, who will not seek re-election as LegCo president, said the most regrettable thing during the last term was his failure to help establish a more productive relationship between various political groups, especially the pan-democrats, and the central government.
“I believe for One Country, Two Systems to work at all, we need this relationship between the whole of [the] legislature and the central government,” he said. “After all, there is hardly anything discussed in the Legislative Council which is not related to mainland affairs.”
He said he was glad that Wang Guanya, the top Chinese official managing Hong Kong affairs, said recently that most of the pan-democrats are also part of the establishment.
“Being so, I think it is very unreasonable that there is no normal channel of communication between the various political groups in the council and the central government,” he said.