Six-month ban for all lawmakers who resign

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am


By-elections will be retained, but lawmakers who resign mid-term will be barred from standing in by-elections for six months, under the latest proposal the government has unveiled to plug what it calls a 'loophole'.

The government hopes for Legislative Council approval this year.

The 'loophole' was used by five lawmakers in 2010, to the government's annoyance. They resigned to force what they dubbed a de facto referendum on the pace and scope of democratisation.

Yesterday, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the plan had 'mild, proportionate and reasonable restrictions' to prevent lawmakers abusing the system, and he was confident it would weather any legal challenges. He said the bar would apply to all geographical and functional constituency lawmakers.

However, the proposal is expected to face strong opposition from pan-democrats, and one lawmaker vowed to deploy delaying tactics to block the bill.

In May last year the government proposed scrapping by-elections and filling mid-term vacancies with the candidate who obtained the next most votes in the previous poll.

But that proposal triggered a public outcry and was labelled unconstitutional. The government then revised the proposal and conducted a two-month public consultation.

Tam, unveiling the new proposal yesterday after endorsement by the Executive Council, said the government had received more than 31,000 written submissions. Most favoured retaining the by-election system.

Tam said the new proposal - which would be put forward for Legco scrutiny next month - was constitutional, according to independent legal advice from Lord David Pannick QC.

'A six-month period is long enough to deter abusive conduct and not so long that it would render the restriction more than is necessary to address the mischief,' Tam said.

'Restrictions may be imposed on this right [to stand in an election] so long as they are proportionate to a legitimate aim, and the Basic Law gives the Legco a broad discretion in determining the contents of the legislation which governs the 'specific method' for forming the Legco.'

Government-loyalist lawmakers, including members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the Federation of Trade Unions and the Liberal Party, said they would support the new proposal.

But pan-democratic lawmakers - who have 23 votes in the 60-seat Legco - stood firm against it, criticising the amendments as unconstitutional because they scrapped a person's right to stand for election.

Albert Chan Wai-yip, of People Power, said he might use delaying tactics to block the bill. When Legco's four-year term ends in July, unfinished bills will lapse. 'If we propose hundreds of amendments and other lawmakers co-operate, I don't think the bill can be passed in July,' Chan said. Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said her party opposed the proposal, but had not decided whether to join Chan's delaying tactics.