Editorial﹕Handle amendment controversy within the system

【明報專訊】AMID controversy over the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, the government has reiterated that the second reading debate on the bill will resume tomorrow (June 12) as scheduled. Meanwhile the anti‑amendment movement is about to escalate. Preparations are being made for a siege of the Legislative Council, while some groups and businesses are answering the call for strikes, by both employees and employers, and a boycott of classes. Now that a head‑on clash is imminent, the situation is worrying.

The anti‑amendment mass demonstration on Sunday was full of sound and fury. Views differ as to its turnout, but even Chief Executive Carrie Lam admits it is beyond doubt that many people took to the streets. In 2003 there were 500,000 people on the march against Article 23 legislation. Several days later the government gave in and withdrew the bill. This time around, the government has not indicated that it will do the same. Instead it has reiterated that the work to amend the ordinance will continue, and the second reading debate on the bill will resume tomorrow. Carrie Lam mentions the government's tasks in four aspects: intensive explanation of the aims of the amendment, earlier explanation to the Legislative Council for the measures for better protection of human rights, regular reports to the Legislative Council on how the law is being enforced, and speeding up negotiations on long‑term extradition agreements with other regions. The government hopes that these measures will dispel public doubts. But it is very doubtful whether they will be sufficient to change the stance of those opposed to the amendment.

The government has acted rashly and underestimated the backlash from the public. The manoeuvre of different political forces has also made the issue more than about the arrangements for transferring fugitives. A complex issue, the amendment of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance requires in‑depth consideration and extensive consultation. But it must be said that some of those who took part in the mass demonstration have reacted to the amendment in a way that goes beyond the amendment itself, an example being the worry that freedom of speech in Hong Kong will be snuffed out right away. This reflects a strong sense of scepticism about China. Even if the government launches an extensive consultation exercise and revises the amendment proposal, it will not be able to change their views.

After the mass demonstration on Sunday, the convener of Civil Human Rights Front called on lawmakers to vote against the amendment bill during its second reading. A fully‑fledged society with a complete set of practices and institutions, Hong Kong has the capability to handle the crisis in accordance with the mechanism and procedures. The best efforts should be made to handle all matters within the system. No one should talk lightly about resorting to means outside the system. The government will definitely pay a hefty political price for pushing ahead with the amendment. At this critical juncture, society must remain calm and rational. It must not embark on the path of violence and self‑harm. At this stage, there are few options that will allow a "soft‑landing". Acting in accordance with the existing mechanism and procedures and letting members of the Legislative Council to follow their conscience when casting their votes is a more appropriate thing to do.

The Legislative Council is the embodiment of public opinion. Every lawmaker should accurately reflect public opinion. If any lawmaker acts against it, voters will punish them with their votes. Judging from the current political situation, it might not be easy for lawmakers to put aside their collective political stance and the influence of other political forces when casting their votes. But it might not be that difficult. The crux of the matter is political courage and determination. A veto on the amendment by the Legislative Council will give all sides a way out of the political dilemma. Lawmakers from all parties should think carefully about how they will vote.

明報社評 2019.06.11﹕修例危機按制度處理 勿讓香港墮動盪深淵







reading﹕one of the stages during which a bill (= a proposal for a new law) must be discussed and accepted by a parliament before it can become law

snuff out﹕to stop or end sth in a sudden way

embodiment﹕a person or thing that represents or is a typical example of an idea or a quality

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