Once again, political discussion in Hong Kong revolves around the issue of filibustering. The issue should really have been decided determinatively two years ago, when Long Hair lodged a judicial review application against the Legco President’s decision to cut short a debate on a proposed amendment to the Legislative Council Ordinance. Back then, the amendments were sought to prevent Legco members who resigned, from standing for re-election within six months of the resignation (Leung Kwok Hung v President of Legislative Council, HCAL 64/2012). This time around, Legco is discussing amendments to the budget bill, which some members are trying to filibuster.
That is the normal course of parliamentary proceedings, and perhaps even more likely to occur in the context of Hong Kong’s less than democratic parliament. However, what is not normal is that the debate about whether or not members are allowed to filibuster, keeps popping up, without being properly resolved. As the previous case from 2012 showed, filibustering is clearly allowable under Legco rules, precisely because there are no rules on filibustering. Back then, the court wiggled out of having to make a final determination as it deferred to parliamentary privilege. In other words, it said that since parliament should be free to decide on its own rules and procedures, the court would not intervene.
So we are now back where is all began, only that this time, rather than just cut off debate at a random point in time as he did last time, the Legco President has pre-set a deadline for debate to finish. While there are pros and cons to pre-limiting debate, the most evident problem with this latest development is that it is not covered by any rules. That cannot be right. If there was to be a cut off point for debates – and there is no intrinsic reason not to have a cut off point – the modalities of determining such a cut-off point have to be laid down in the rules of procedure. Instead, what we now have in Hong Kong is that everything depends on the whim of one person, with all the inherent dangers and attendant abuse potential.