No rule to follow to end filibusters in HK's Legislative Council
The filibuster has been part of the Hong Kong political scene for more than a decade, but despite the stalling tactic being used three times in the past year, the Legislative Council's rules of procedure show little sign of catching up.
Last week, when attempts to filibuster the budget bill were effectively ended by Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, he laid bare the fact that "there is no rule to follow" to end a filibuster when a bill is passing through the committee stage.
Instead, Tsang had to rely on Rule 92 of the Legco rules of procedure. It authorises the president to act "if he thinks fit" in scenarios for which no procedure has been set. What Tsang "thought fit" was to set a 14-hour deadline for the debate on the 710 amendments issued by radicals over the appropriation bill as they fought for the introduction of a universal pension.
It wasn't the first time the Legco president had used the powers of Rule 92. Twelve months ago, Tsang ended the longest-ever filibuster which lasted for more than 100 hours over three weeks. The issue then was a ban on lawmakers who resigned from standing for election within the next six months.
It was a controversial decision. "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, of the League of Social Democrats, sought a judicial review of Tsang's decision, only to lose the case in April.
Not even Tsang's colleagues in the Beijing-loyalist camp are entirely comfortable with the Legco president having such powers.
Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, a member of Legco's committee on rules of procedure, admits it's not ideal to have no rule to follow with regard to the filibuster.
"We all know there are loopholes in the rules of procedure," Ip said. "But there is nothing we can do as the pan-democrats are all mouth but have no action to fix them. This left the Legco president with no choice but to continue exercising the power."
Ip wants to revise the rules, not just to set clear procedures for ending a filibuster but also to prevent the tactic from being attempted in the first place. He proposes limiting lawmakers' right to move amendments in the Finance Committee. Ironically, his plan is facing a filibuster attempt itself - pan-democrats have filed some two million amendments to it.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit says it's vital that the minority has the right to conduct a filibuster as "a weapon of mass destruction" when it comes to defending the freedom and rights of Hong Kong people.
But Leong, vice-chairman of the committee on rules of procedure, also agrees that it is better to have rules. "I will try my utmost to limit the power of the Legco president, yet I can foresee how difficult it is," he said.
"The pan-democrats have a majority mandate of 55 per cent [of the popular vote] but we are the minority in the legislature. In such circumstances, a consensus for a review would not be easily reached."
Independent Beijing loyalist Paul Tse Wai-chun hopes lawmakers can discuss a time limit on debates to prevent filibusters.
"When the government shelved the Article 23 bill, there wasn't any filibustering," he said, referring to a national security law withdrawn by the government after huge protests a decade ago. "As long as you have the people's support, and a relative free press, filibustering is not a necessary weapon."