Raymond Wong Yuk Man

Running down the clock in Legco

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Speaking extraordinarily slowly, and quoting the Bible and ancient Chinese history classics, were among the tactics radical pan-democratic lawmakers used in their filibuster yesterday to force the withdrawal of a bill to restrict by-elections.

Despite successfully mobilising members with the poorest attendance records to show up, the Beijing-loyalist camp's effort to counter a pan-democrat boycott of the bill may still fail tonight, as some lawmakers have evening engagements.

Their absence will leave the council short of the minimum attendance needed for debate. This will lead to an adjournment of the debate until Wednesday, when it could face similar disruption. If this continues it could hold up other key bills.

At the centre of attention are People Power lawmakers Albert Chan Wai-yip and Wong Yuk-man, who filed 1,306 amendments to the electoral bill, which would bar lawmakers who resign from standing for election again within six months.

The government introduced the bill following resignations by pan-democrats in 2009 to trigger by-elections that they hoped - in vain, as it turned out - would be a de facto referendum on democratisation.

As the debate began, Wong Yuk-man read his amendments slowly in Putonghua. When Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing complained, Wong Yuk-man spoke even more slowly, 'to imitate Premier Wen Jiabao '.

The People Power duo were joined by League of Social Democrats chairman 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung. They quoted from the Bible, dictionaries, and Chinese classics such as Shiji to explain amendments.

They also tried to force an adjournment under a rule that 30 of the 60 lawmakers must be present and the meeting must be stopped if this is not met within 15 minutes of a summons to legislators to attend. In all, 14 summonses were demanded.

Beijing-loyalist lawmakers could only stay and listen. Wong Kwok-hing brought ink and a paintbrush to make copies of his satirical poems using calligraphy, and put them up on the seats, protesting against the filibuster. That brought a complaint from Wong Yuk-man.

'Would they point out which rule in Legco forbids a member from writing with a paintbrush in the chamber?' Wong Kwok-hing responded.

After the debate was suspended late last night - it will resume this morning - Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the government did not have a timeframe for when it might withdraw the bill should the filibustering drag on.

'There is no bottom line. I think they should stop filibustering at an appropriate time. We all have to consider public sentiment. When those who like to perform feel satisfied in one to two days, it would be time for them to vote.'

He said he could not estimate how long the meeting might drag on.

'It could last until June 30 [when the current administration's term ends], but I think it won't take that long,' he said.