Public opinion comes second for Legco chief
Tanna Chong and Peter So
Legislative Council President Tsang Yok-sing admits his decision to halt a marathon Legislative Council debate on a by-election law to stop a filibuster will hurt his popularity with the public, but says personal political consequences were not his main concern.
Tsang ended debate on the bill, which will ban lawmakers who resign from running in any by-election for the next six months, in the early hours of last Thursday. He did so by citing Article 92 of Legco's rules of procedure, which allow the president to decide on matters not covered in the rules. He is expected to face a confidence motion next month.
Asked by reporters what effect his decision would have on his prospects in September's Legco election, Tsang said: 'The current public opinion of me is worrying. Drops in popularity are also expected. But I cannot make such political considerations when I make rulings.'
Speaking a day after he set out his reasons for the ruling in writing, Tsang admitted again that he could have handled the matter better by ensuring there was a consensus among lawmakers that the debate should stop.
'If I could have confirmed a consensus among lawmakers, again I would have avoided misunderstanding,' Tsang said. 'But I always hold the view that lawmakers do have some restrictions in speaking in bill debates.'
Pan-democrats repeated their criticism of Tsang's decision and said they were never given an opportunity to oppose the winding up of the debate.
Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said the party's lawmakers were angry at Tsang's claim that he decided to halt the debate only after 'no objection was heard' in a private meeting with 30 lawmakers from across the political spectrum.
'Tsang's comment was obviously misleading. We are very disappointed, frustrated and angry. It seems that there is no other choice but to support a vote of no confidence,' Ho said.
Ho also asked Tsang to withdraw his remark, otherwise his colleagues would not hold further closed-door meetings with Tsang.
'Tsang said no one opposed the closure of the debate, but by the time we were informed, he'd already made his decision. No room for dispute existed,' Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said. 'Tsang has established a worrying precedent, so we hope to overturn it.'
Ng, a barrister who represents the legal sector in Legco, has yet to decide whether to support fellow lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung in an appeal against the High Court's rejection of his legal challenge to Tsang's ruling. She said she would wait for the written judgment from Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon.
People Power lawmaker Wong Yuk-man, a leader of the filibuster attempt, said the confidence motion could be tabled as early as June 13.
Legco continues to vote on the 1,306 amendments to the bill tabled by Wong and party colleague Albert Chan Wai-yip, with 820 still to be voted on. Wong expects the voting to take a further 30 hours, so it could run into next week.