After 110 rocky hours, by-election bill passes into law

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2012, 12:00am


Legislators set a record in marathon bill-vetting last night, as they voted down the last of the amendments to a controversial by-election bill and passed it into law at the end of a 110-hour process.

The passage of the bill also marked the pro-government camp's success in defeating a filibuster attempt initiated by radical People Power lawmakers.

The bill was passed in its third reading, with 29 pro-government lawmakers voting in favour, after 11 days of filibuster and eight days of voting. All the pan-democrats boycotted the sitting and no one voted against the bill. Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing also abstained.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen joined lawmakers in a round of applause before he marched out of the chamber.

The plenary session went on to scrutinise an anti-competition bill until late, and is expected to resume vetting on Wednesday.

The focus of controversy, the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2012 bars lawmakers who resign from standing in a by-election for six months. It was introduced to prevent a repetition of a 'de facto referendum' on political reform when five pan-democrat legislators resigned in 2010 only to contest their same seats.

Lawmakers Albert Chan Wai-yip and Wong Yuk-man filed 1,306 amendments to force the bill's withdrawal. Their challenge led to 54 hours of debate in the second and third readings and the filibuster.

The pro-government camp then took more than 55 hours in eight days, including 13 hours of breaks and mealtimes, to vote down all the amendments.

The whole process, lasting for more than 110 hours, sets a record as the longest Legco meeting yet, almost doubling the 2006 record of nearly 58 hours on scrutinising the Interception of Communications and Surveillance Bill.

The atmosphere in the chamber lightened visibly in the morning as the end to the voting drew near.

When Wong moved the final amendment, almost all pro-government lawmakers joined him in standing up to request the use of the electronic voting system - which would take a minute more each time compared to the simple raising of hands - a scene that even Wong could not help giggling at. Tsang then announced: 'Since most of the lawmakers remain in a normal mental state, the meeting continues.'

But as the bill moved into its third reading, the rival camps resumed exchanging fire.

Lau Kong-wah, vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, slammed the pan-democrats for staging the filibuster. 'The most senseless moments in our history have just ended,' he said. 'This mad filibuster ... is political blackmail.'

Wong Kwok-hing of the Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions, who wrote slogans using calligraphy during the meetings to protest against the filibuster, also said he felt disgusted. 'People Power lawmakers ignored the fact that Legco had to deal with urgent social issues [and carried on the filibuster] at the expense of huge costs. The whole of Hong Kong are all losers.'

Wong Yuk-man remained defiant despite admitting failure. 'It failed in the sense that we had originally intended to pull [the bill] down. Nevertheless, we exposed how desperate the legislature and the government are [to pass the bill].'