Legco set for epic budget protest over pensions

Marathon filibuster expected to surpass last year's 13-day action as pan-democrats table record number of amendments to budget bill

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 5:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 5:12am

The Legislative Council could be set for a marathon filibuster lasting into next month, after Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said yesterday that he could only follow the existing rules to deal with the record 1,917 tabled amendments to the budget bill - more than double the number of amendments filed last year.

The proposed changes were tabled by 14 pan-democratic lawmakers, including "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, who told the South China Morning Post that he filed 1,503 of the amendments.

Leung is protesting the absence of a universal pension scheme from the budget, pointing out that government advisers had recently proposed setting up a multibillion-dollar "future fund" to be used for big investments. The financial services secretary suggested the money could be spent on infrastructure.

Last year, radical pan-democrats filed 751 amendments to the budget bill, and their filibuster lasted for over 120 hours across 13 days. Tsang eventually invoked a rule which allows him "to be guided by the practice and procedure of other legislatures" if he decides a situation has arisen for which there is no applicable Legco rule.

Tsang ordered an end to the filibuster and the budget was passed by the Legco on May 21.

"My filibuster this year is more meaningful and justified than the one a year ago," Leung said. "I will stop immediately if officials promise that a 50 billion-dollar universal pension fund will be launched before 2017."

Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun of the University of Hong Kong, who is leading a study on pension schemes, said yesterday that he would submit his report by the end of May. He suggested that lawmakers be patient.

People Power's Albert Chan Wai-yip and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen filed at least 261 amendments to the budget, which Legco will begin vetting today. The filibuster is expected to begin next week.

In February, the Legco president offered two proposals to curb filibusters. But a committee on Legco rules has yet to reach a consensus on those suggestions, Tsang said yesterday. "We are facing a situation just like last year … I can only follow and consider the same principles and procedures," he said.

Tsang expects most of the 1,917 amendments to be in line with Legco rules, and will discuss with the Legco's Secretariat how to handle the large number of amendments. "At this point, I couldn't estimate how long [the filibuster] will take, and when I will consider cutting it," he said.

While the pro-government camp has condemned the upcoming filibuster attempt, the radical pan-democrats have also yet to convince some of their more moderate colleagues.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said his party disagreed with filibustering, but felt a formal mechanism must be agreed to deal with them.

Pan-democrat Charles Mok said the filibuster attempt had "no apparent or achievable final outcome".

The filibuster was a legitimate tool for the minority in the legislature, he said, but should not be used too often.