Halted filibuster starts new storm

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am


A 33-hour marathon filibuster came to an abrupt end yesterday after Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing invoked for the first time powers in the rules of procedure to halt debate on a controversial bill to restrict Legco by-elections.

The move drew a legal challenge from League of Social Democrats legislator 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung. He wants the High Court to rule that Tsang went beyond his powers in ending the debate or to issue a temporary injunction freezing Tsang's decision.

The filibuster was an attempt by radical democrats to block the passage of the bill, which would ban lawmakers who resign midterm from standing in a by-election within six months. People Power legislators Albert Chan Wai-yip and Wong Yuk-man tabled 1,300 amendments to the proposal. Pro-government lawmakers tried to stop the filibuster.

Debate was suspended twice in the last two weeks because too few lawmakers were in the chamber. It resumed at 2.30pm on Wednesday after Tsang approved an overnight sitting. As the debate entered its 33rd hour at 4.30am yesterday, pro-government lawmaker Philip Wong Yu-hong asked for an end to scrutiny of the amendments, prompting nearly two hours of closed-door discussion among legislators.

Tsang then announced he would invoke Article 92 of Legco's rules of procedure - which empower the council president to decide on matters not bound by existing rules - to stop the debate at 12pm and vote on the amendments in the afternoon.

Pan-democrats criticised him fiercely, saying it could set an 'extremely bad precedent' by allowing the Legco president's power to expand 'boundlessly', so that in future he could halt debate at will on other controversial bills, such as legislation on the national security law.

Tsang said he had exercised a power he was entitled to use. He said his decision was not due to any political pressure from the government, but was intended to maintain normal operation of the legislature. He also said he had discussed with the Legco secretariat exercising the power.

'It was a very unusual situation in which the debate lasted more than 33 hours and several lawmakers made lots of repetitive speeches,' he said. 'It was not productive or fruitful.'

Tsang admitted he did not consult lawmakers on the move. 'I knew the decision would be highly controversial ... It would not have been fruitful [even] if I consulted the members, given their opposing political views.'

Chan said he was seeking advice on launching a judicial review of Tsang's decision, while Wong will seek a vote of no confidence in Tsang on June 6. Twenty pan-democrats jointly condemned Tsang's decision, but will wait for a written explanation from him before deciding whether to support the no-confidence motion.

Ip Kwok-him, of the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance of for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, agreed with the move: '[A filibuster] is the minority's persecution of the majority. We are all like prisoners.'

Judge Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon said he wanted to hear from the Legco secretariat and adjourned Leung's legal challenge to today. Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, for Leung, said the Legco president could exercise his Article 92 powers only when the rules of procedure did not provide for a situation.

University of Hong Kong law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said the court was unlikely to grant a judicial review.

Nearly 100 of the amendments were voted down yesterday. The voting continues today. Going through all 1,306 amendments is expected to require three more days.