Pan-democrats lose out in battle for Legco panel power
Beijing loyalists end up chairing 16 out of 20, setting stage for a conflict
The pro-establishment camp secured 16 out of 20 chairmanships on Legislative Council panels and subcommittees yesterday, three more than in the previous legislature, including the much-coveted panel on administration of justice and legal services.
The outcome was a blow for the pan-democratic camp, whose four chairmanships fell short of the seven it occupied in the last four-year term.
The refusal of Beijing-loyalist lawmakers - who form the majority in Legco - to grant more chairmanships to the pan-democrats sets the stage for an escalating tussle between the two sides.
Their next battle will take place on Friday in the Finance Committee meeting, when Beijing loyalists will seek, amid pan-democrats' opposition, to change rules to ban filibusters.
Dr Li Pang-kwong, a political scientist at Lingnan University, said the pro-establishment camp's bagging of the chairs was "a preventive measure against filibustering and an attempt to regain an initiating role".
However, it was likely to worsen straining ties, and pan-democrats might resort to more radical means of protest, he said.
Pan-democrats Lee Cheuk-yan and Cyd Ho Sau-lan of the Labour Party, the Civic Party's Alan Leong Kah-kit and People Power's Wong Yuk-man secured chairs. The chairs were for panels on manpower, on the environment, on food safety and environmental hygiene, and on information technology and broadcasting, respectively.
The Democratic Party's Emily Lau Wai-hing and the Civic Party's Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, Kwok Ka-ki and Leong lost their bids to head up the constitutional affairs, legal services and transport panels, and the public works sub-committee.
Since last month, the pan-democrats had sought to reach a consensus with their rivals, including splitting panel chairmanships so each camp would get two years at the helm. The two sides agreed to split the chairmanships of the four now chaired by pan-democrats, and five others that they would be allowed to chair two years later.
Political scientist Dixon Sing Ming, from the University of Science and Technology, said the outcome reflected the wishes of Beijing and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to ensure a smoother passage of government proposals.
"In the next few years, Legco will discuss important policies, for example, electoral reforms," Sing said.
Independent legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who beat Dennis Kwok to chair the legal services panel, courted controversy right away when she proposed holding the meetings at 10.45am on Fridays, instead of the current 4.30pm on Mondays.
Pan-democrats objected, accusing her of discussing the matter with the Legco secretariat before she was elected chairwoman. Leung promised to try to come up with a better timeslot.
Firing an opening salvo on the part of the Beijing-loyalist camp, Ip Kwok-him, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said he would seek an amendment on Friday to the Finance Committee's procedures, to ban lawmakers from tabling more than one motion on every funding proposal. The present rules allow a lawmaker to move a motion without prior notice before an item is put to the vote.
In June, People Power lawmakers moved nearly 1,000 motions, causing a marathon series of meetings that helped block a government restructuring plan.
Ip emphasised that his amendment would not limit lawmakers' right to speak.
"Sixty-nine lawmakers can still table 69 motions, but the amendment is necessary to ensure smooth proceedings at meetings".
Lau slammed Ip's proposal as the equivalent of turning Legco into a rubber stamp. "It is like declaring war on the pan-democrats; if you take away our right to speak, the world will think Legco is completely meaningless."
Only a simple majority for is needed for Ip's amendment to pass. Albert Chan Wai-yip of People Power warned that it might launch another filibuster to stop it from getting through.
PANEL CHAIRMANSHIPS WON BY THE PRO-ESTABLISHMENT CAMP
Administration of justice and legal services: Priscilla Leung Mei-fun
Commerce and industry: Vincent Fang Kang
Constitutional affairs: Tam Yiu-chung
Development: Lau Wong-fat
Economic development: Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung
Education: Lam Tai-fai
Financial affairs: Starry Lee Wai-king
Health services: Leung Ka-lau
Home affairs: Ma Fung-kwok
Housing: Wong Kwok-hing
Public service: Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee
Security: Ip Kwok-him
Transport: Chan Kam-lam
Welfare services: Chan Yuen-han
Establishment subcommittee: Wong Ting-kwong
Public works subcommittee: Chan Kam-lam
PANEL CHAIRMANSHIPS WON BY THE PAN-DEMOCRATS
Information technology and broadcasting: Wong Yuk-man
Manpower: Lee Cheuk-yan
Environmental affairs: Cyd Ho Sau-lan
Food safety and environmental hygiene: Alan Leong Kah-kit