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






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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