Legco president Jasper Tsang looks for rule change to end filibusters

Tsang says delaying tactics could be halted by letting lawmakers put forward closure motion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 5:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 January, 2014, 5:09am

Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing is pressing for action to find a way to cut short filibusters, the delaying tactics used by lawmakers to block government proposals.

He has called for a meeting with the Legislative Council's rules of procedure committee to discuss two suggestions to end a filibuster - by allowing lawmakers to put forward a closure motion, or by setting a time limit for a debate.

Tsang is keen to avoid a repeat of the filibustering tactics used last year by radical legislators to attempt to block a budget bill.

There is a chance it could happen again when Legco is asked to approve a proposal in Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address last week to set up an innovation and technology bureau.

"The responsibility for ending a filibuster currently falls on the Legco president, but it will trigger something more serious sooner or later," Tsang said.

He said Legco should introduce new rules so that lawmakers - instead of the Legco president - would decide when and how to end a filibuster.

Last year radical pan-democratic lawmakers initiated a marathon filibuster by submitting more than 700 amendments to the budget bill in their fight for a universal pension. Tsang eventually ended the 109-hour-long debate by citing Rule 92 of the Legco rules of procedure, which authorises the president to act "as he thinks fit" in scenarios where no procedure has been set.

Tsang admitted the use of Rule 92 "was not totally unarguable". He suggested the closure motion should be voted for under the split-voting system.

It would mean the motion cannot be passed unless it is supported both by directly elected lawmakers and those from functional constituencies.

"The pro-establishment camp couldn't secure a majority on both sides [directly elected seats and functional constituency seats] now, so the pan-democrats who are against ending the filibuster could still veto the [closure] motion under the split-voting system," he said.

"There were pan-democrats urging me to end the filibuster privately on one hand, but publicly condemned me for cutting short the debate after I did so … [with the new rules] they would have the right to end the debate themselves by casting votes."

Tsang said he had asked Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the committee on rules of procedure, to arrange a committee meeting so he could discuss the matter directly with members across the political spectrum.

Tam was not optimistic about Tsang's plan, although he agreed clear rules should be drawn up.

"Any changes in the rules of procedure require support from both geographical and functional constituencies … I don't think pan-democrats will vote for it," he said.

He added the earliest Tsang could attend the committee would be the end of next month.

In the US, a filibuster can be ended by invoking "cloture" - a procedure that forces a vote to take place. It requires three-fifths of the Senate to agree.