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Editorial﹕Foul play will not solve the problem

【明報專訊】THE Legislative Council is locked in unprecedented institutional stalemate in the midst of the deliberation of the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. The Bills Committee is now disorderly and dysfunctional, with both the pan-democrats and the pro‑establishment camp claiming to be in charge of the only legitimate committee and engaging in not only verbal disagreements but also physical scuffles. They are doing a disservice to Legco's reputation. It is not uncommon for the pan‑democrats and pro-establishment camp to be locked in disagreements. But the latest incident is serious in nature in the sense that it has undermined the institutions and practices of the Legislative Council. The interplay between political and institutional deadlocks is such that attempts to sort out the messy situation have only entangled it further. Only he who tied the Gordian knot can untie it — the political deadlock triggered by the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance has to be resolved by the government. As for the institutional deadlock in the Legislative Council, the pan-democrats and pro-establishment camp have to pay proper regard to bounds of decency and seek a way out through dialogue. They should stop foul play or setting bad precedents so as not to further undermine the institutions and practices of the Legislative Council.

Last Saturday, pro-establishment and pan‑democratic lawmakers clashed with each other over the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. The pan‑democrats stressed that James To had already been elected chairman of the Bills Committee, while the pro‑establishment camp claimed that the meeting hosted by James To was illegal. Both sides stuck to their guns. This morning (May 14) James To and Abraham Shek will convene their own meetings. It is deeply worrying whether both sides will come to blows again.

The pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps are at daggers drawn. If the bill is sent directly to the assembly, it will be nothing more than a shift of battlefields. Furthermore, the assembly does not have the same functions as the Bills Committee in the sense that lawmakers in the assembly do not have the opportunity to scrutinise every article by asking questions and requiring government officials to answer them. Both sides will only be saying what they want to say, which is different from the scrutiny of a bill. An even bigger problem is the logic behind it, which is basically the same as what has caused the crisis in the Legislative Council. It will mean both sides exploiting loopholes and having no qualms about setting bad precedents under the pretext that the rules of procedures do not say no. If this precedent is set, any major bill in the future will be sent to the assembly directly at the slightest setback it runs into. Bills Committees will exist in name only, and the institutions and practices in the Legislative Council will be further damaged.

As things stand it is impossible for either the pro‑establishment camp or the pan-democrats to climb down and admit that the Bills Committee spearheaded by the opposite side is "legitimate". To give both sides room for a graceful departure from the positions they cling onto, it is worth studying in detail the proposal of setting up a Select Committee for the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. The pan-democrats have adopted an unequivocal stance against the amendment, but those who make up the pro-establishment camp are not one and the same. There should be room for negotiation that enables them to exert pressure on the government in a reasonable manner. If the pan-democrats are worried that they will be at a disadvantage if the Select Committee has the same establishmentarian-democrat ratio as the Legislative Council, it can lay down a condition to ensure that both sides have an equal number of members. If the pro-establishment camp is worried that disagreements will be provoked by the election of the chairman, it can demand that the pan-democrats make a gentleman's promise. Of course such an arrangement will, at best, tackle the institutional deadlock in the Legislative Council, but not the political deadlock concerning the amendment. If the pan-democrats and pro-establishment camp are determined to continue their foul play, the deadlock will carry on forever when both sides negotiate about the choice of the chairman. But the creation of a Select Committee can at least give both sides an opportunity to start over and find the way out.

明報社評 2019.05.14﹕議會失效禮崩樂壞 鬥打茅波於事無補

立法會就審議《逃犯條例》修訂事宜,陷入前所未有的制度僵局,法案委員會失序失效,泛民與建制均認為己方主導的會議才是「正統」,議事堂上講口又「講手」,有損立法會聲譽。泛民建制爭持不下並不鮮見,今次事件如斯嚴重,在於傷及立法會規章制度,政治僵局和制度僵局糾纏交織,治絲益棼。解鈴還須繫鈴人,修訂《逃犯條例》引發的政治僵局,需要政府化解;至於立法會的制度僵局,則要泛民建制兩派知所分寸,透過對話協商尋找出路,停止鬥打茅波「做壞規矩」,以免進一步破壞立法會規章制度。

上周六,建制和泛民立法會議員就《逃犯條例》修訂爆發衝突,泛民強調,涂謹申已獲選為法案委員會主席,建制派則表示之前由涂謹申主持的會議不合法,雙方各執一詞。今天早上,涂謹申和石禮謙又將各自召開會議,議事堂會否再度出現肢體衝突,令人深以為憂。

目前建制與泛民劍拔弩張,若草案直接交予大會,不過是轉移戰場,况且大會做不到法案委員會的功能,議員與官員無法一問一答逐條審議條文,大會只是雙方各自發言,與審議是兩碼子的事。更大問題是有關做法背後的邏輯,跟導致當前立法會危機的原因殊無二致,總之就是鬥鑽空子,議會規矩沒說不,史無前例又如何。今次先例一開,日後任何重大法案一遇阻滯就直上大會,法案委員會廢掉武功,立法會規章制度將遭受進一步破壞。

以目前形勢,無論建制還是泛民都不可能轉軚,承認對方所牽頭的法案委員會是「正統」。為了讓雙方有下台階,另設專責委員會審議《逃犯條例》修訂,值得仔細考慮。泛民反對修例立場鮮明,建制派內部並非鐵板一塊,理應有談判空間,以合理方法向政府施壓。若泛民擔心按立法會兩派議員比例入會「蝕底」,可以向建制派開出條件,務求「扯平」形勢;若建制派擔心選主席再起爭拗,可以要求泛民許下君子承諾。當然,這一安排充其量只能處理眼下立法會制度僵局,解決不了圍繞修例的政治僵局,倘若泛民建制決意繼續鬥打茅波,協商找主席的僵局仍會「無限輪迴」,然而另設專責委員會至少可以讓泛民建制有一次機會「重新來過」,嘗試走出死胡同。

■Glossary

qualm﹕a feeling of doubt or worry about whether what you are doing is right

unequivocal﹕expressing your opinion or intention very clearly and firmly

one and the same﹕the same person or thing

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