Pan-democrat walkout on by-elections
Tanna Chong and Fanny W.Y. Fung
Pan-democrats staged a walkout from a Legislative Council committee yesterday, accusing the government of 'procedural violence' in its attempts to push through a law scrapping by-elections.
They later resigned en masse from the committee scrutinising the legislative amendment, and called on protesters to make the issue the focus of the annual July 1 demonstration.
Anger flared after Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung moved to skip normal procedures in an attempt to ensure the bill could be tabled for a vote in on July 13 - the last meeting before the legislature's summer recess. If successful, Lam's move would see the legislative process completed within just 35 days, which is without precedent.
When a motion to withdraw the bill was voted down by 13 votes to eight, eight of the 12 pan-democrats on the bills committee walked out of the meeting to vet the government's proposal to fill midterm Legco vacancies in geographical constituencies with the next-best-placed candidate at the previous election, regardless of their political affiliation.
Four other pan-democrats who sit on the committee but were absent then joined colleagues in submitting a letter announcing their resignation.
The 12 said the gestures were a protest against a legislative push by the government that showed little heed for public opinion.
The government action comes after five pan-democrats quit their seats in January last year to trigger by-elections they hoped would be a 'referendum' on democratisation. But big political parties shunned the polls and turnout was low.
Invoking the spirit of protests against enactment of a national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law, which brought down the city's first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, in 2003, the lawmakers urged the public to rally on July 1 to try to block the bill, which seems the only option left open to them. The move to enact Article 23 was withdrawn after 500,000 people took to the streets on July 1 that year.
While an attempt at a judicial review sounds viable, given warnings by the Bar Association that the proposal is against the Basic Law, a court ruling in 2008 reinforcing the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature means it would be unlikely to succeed.
'This is clearly procedural violence, even worse than the legislative work on Article 23,' said Cyd Ho Sau-lan, the Civic Act-up lawmaker who speaks for the pan-democrats. 'The then government at least reserved 11 months for Legco procedures, and offered legislation. But we only had the first bills committee meeting last Friday, and before all the clauses of the amendment bill have been scrutinised the constitutional minister has already scheduled an application for expedition of procedure on Friday.'
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said: 'We need to take to the streets and force the withdrawal of this bill, which takes away the important right to vote. We need to repeat the history of 2003.'
Lam said yesterday's walkout was 'against public expectations'. He said: 'We are fully ready to listen to views from all sides and we have done so in recent weeks.'
The proposed legislation comes with hastily prepared documents. In a paper sent to lawmakers, changes were handwritten. The filing code was also missing.
The paper also misstated the name of the Court of First Instance as the 'Court of Final Instance' in an introductory paragraph.
Pro-government lawmaker Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said she might raise an amendment to narrow the bill's scope to a ban on by-elections for midterm vacancies triggered by deliberate resignations.