Bid to stop 'endless debate' on budget

Legco boss seeks a way to avoid passage of bill being hijacked by filibustering as unionist calls for 'stamina battle' with radical pan-democrats

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 April, 2013, 4:26am

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing says he is trying to find a way to avoid an "endless debate" over the budget next week because of filibustering by radical pan-democrats.

And unionist lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing yesterday called on the legislature to work around the clock to tackle the filibuster.

If there are hundreds of amendments, there will be hundreds of debates. We are unable to merge it into one, according to our legal advice
Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing

Both mainstream pan-democrats and pro-establishment lawmakers have also agreed to discuss ways to handle any stalling tactics in the future.

Radical pan-democrats had filed a total of 751 amendments to the bill by the deadline last night. Half of them were from League of Social Democrats lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung. The rest were filed by three People Power lawmakers.

Their protest is directed at the omission of a universal pension scheme from the budget. The proposed amendments include cutting the budget of nearly every department - starting with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

As the debate over each amendment is unlimited, provided it falls within the scope of the proposal, the filibuster could be time-consuming and costly. If each debate takes an hour, it could last up to 800 hours. That is 80 days of typical Legco sessions.

Tsang - who last year called a halt to filibustering over the by-election rules after 33 hours of debate - said yesterday that he might not be able to repeat the controversial move this time as the circumstances were different.

"If there are hundreds of amendments, there will be hundreds of debates. We are unable to merge it into one, according to our legal advice," he said. Tsang was expected to approve the amendments in the coming days before they can be tabled. He said he would study procedure with the Legco Secretariat to try to find ways to avoid "endless debate".

Wong suggested the meeting be held non-stop, to "exhaust the radicals". "It will be a battle of stamina," he said. "The president must also exercise his power to halt the filibuster because the government might run out of cash by the end of next month."

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged lawmakers to be "cautious" in their use of filibustering. "I hope they give up using such means because it will affect those who rely on financial support from the government," he said.

Mainstream pan-democrats held a press conference to say they would withdraw about 10 amendments not filed as part of the filibuster. "We want to make clear that we will not participate in the action," said Democratic Party leader Emily Lau Wai-hing.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said: "It is time for us to look at the procedures so we can try to explore the possibility of putting a limit on the president's power in handling filibustering."



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