Pressure to postpone by-elections bill grows
The government faces more pressure from allies and independent lawmakers to postpone a bill to eliminate by-elections, following the highest turnout in seven years for the annual march for democracy.
The government's goal is to eliminate the current system for by-elections, which it says was abused by lawmakers who resigned last year to trigger by-elections that they hoped would be a de facto referendum on democratisation.
But a day after the July 1 rally, which saw the biggest crowd since 2004, more pro-establishment legislators joined pan-democrats in urging the administration to shelve the bill. Police said 54,000 people marched, but independent academics said there were about 60,000, while organisers put the number at 218,000. In 2004, organisers said 530,000 people marched, while police said there were 200,000.
The bill is scheduled for voting at a marathon meeting which starts on July 13, the last meeting before Legco enters its summer recess.
'If the government wants to defuse the bomb, it had better make use of the summer recess to consult people.' Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, chairwoman of the New People's Party said. Ip said she had yet to discuss with her party members how to vote if the bill were presented to the Legislative Council as scheduled.
The representative for the information technology sector, Samson Tam Wai-ho, who is usually supportive of the government, now warns he may vote against the contentious proposal if more time for discussion is rejected. He told Cable TV that he might join other independent legislators in lobbying the administration to delay the legislative process. Another independent, Dr Leung Ka-lau of the medical sector, said it would be best if the government were willing to postpone the reading of the bill.
'It is not necessary to vote on it before November's district council elections,' Leung said. 'I don't think those who want to run in the district polls will have to change their plans because of this matter.'
But the administration appeared to be sticking to its guns yesterday. Asked about the increasing opposition to the bill, a government spokeswoman said it had nothing to add to the statement made on Friday, which reiterated that the proposal was legal and constitutional.
Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying said there was still time for the community to discuss the proposal and raise any other new ideas before Legco's vote next week.
'We have all along been listening to people's opinions, for more than a year,' he said.
The substantial number of swing votes means it is not certain the bill will be passed. By yesterday, 15 legislators still had not indicated a voting preference. Professor Patrick Lau Sau-shing, lawmaker for the architectural, surveying and planning sector, is in the undecided camp. Lau said he arranged a meeting for his constituents with constitutional affairs minister Stephen Lam Sui-lung this week. 'Many people in the sector say they don't understand the proposal,' he said. 'The minister should clear up the queries.'
Pan-democrats said they would organise a protest on July 13, with participants to surround the Legco building as lawmakers debate the proposed bill. They also called on voters to voice their opposition to the bill to Legco representatives.