Radicals left to go it alone in pension protest

Mainstream pan-democrats opt out of budget filibuster plan, claiming needy would suffer if delay tactics mean government runs out of cash

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 4:38am

The radical faction of the pan-democratic camp will be on their own in the latest filibuster attempt to obstruct the passage of the budget bill next week, after the camp's three major parties opted against participating in the stalling tactic.

A total of 532 amendments to the appropriation bill had been submitted to the Legislative Council secretariat as of 6pm yesterday, mostly by League of Social Democrats lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, as a means of protesting against the omission of a universal pension scheme in the budget plan.

Leung was supported by three People Power lawmakers, who yesterday vowed to file another 400 amendments ahead of the deadline at midnight last night.

It will be the first time the passage of the annual budget has been threatened by a filibuster.

If each amendment takes an hour to go through, the debate could last up to 800 hours - equivalent to 80 days of typical Legco sessions.

The move poses a dilemma for fellow pan-democrats who support the universal pension scheme, but fear the government could run out of money by the end of next month if the debate drags on.

Leung was determined to go ahead with the filibuster, saying it was a protest "within the law". His proposed amendments include cutting the budget of each government department, starting with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

"If other pan-democratic parties refuse to join the filibuster, they should delete the universal pension scheme from their platforms," he said.

People Power lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said he could not estimate how long the filibuster would last.

"We can terminate it any time, as soon as the administration responds to our demands," he said.

But mainstream pro-democracy parties have distanced themselves from the action, with the Democratic Party, the Civic Party and the Labour Party all stating that their lawmakers would not participate, and that They would also withdraw their own amendments to the budget bill which had not been filed as part of the filibustering plan.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said a filibuster "is not the means to an end".

He added: "We simply do not want the whole administration to be halted by the end of next month. The budget bill also deals with a lot of livelihood issues, such as Comprehensive Social Security Assistance for the needy."

Fellow Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching said the public might experience "filibustering fatigue" if the pan-democrats employed such tactics too often.

Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan also warned vulnerable people could suffer if the government ran out of money.

"We are not authorised to jeopardise the lives of the needy at the expense of our pursuit of a universal pension scheme."

On Saturday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it would be "very inappropriate for the people" if the pan-democrats sought to disrupt the passage of the budget bill.

"Not only would it exhaust civil servants dealing with the amendments - a prolonged filibuster could also hinder daily government operations," the Chief Secretary said.