End in sight to epic budget debate

Final vote on government spending could come as soon as next week

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 3:32am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 4:23am

Lawmakers could give final approval to the government budget as soon as Wednesday after the Legislative Council last night finished voting down almost all of the 1,192 amendments filed by pan-democrats.

The rapid progress eases fears that the government will run out of cash due to a filibuster by radical pan-democrats demanding universal pensions and cash handouts for the public.

The meeting ended at 11pm with all but 56 of the amendments, most filed by People Power lawmakers Albert Chan Wai-yip and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, having been voted down.

Lawmakers had spent three days this week and one last week voting, prompting the Legco president to quip that members were becoming like hostages who fell for their captors.

"Have we got Stockholm syndrome? Are we starting to fall in love with the filibustering lawmakers?" Jasper Tsang Yok-sing joked as the meeting ended.

More than 250 amendments were voted down in yesterday's eight-hour meeting.

Legco will debate the bill again on Wednesday before it votes on its third and final reading, ending an affair that has dragged on since April 30.

The progress has quickened since Tsang imposed a time cap on the discussions. But Beijing-loyalist lawmakers yesterday complained that they were being left to ensure that the legislature had a quorum while pan-democrats stayed away.

Legco votes are invalid unless at least half of the 70 members are present, and the quorum bell summoning lawmakers to the chamber sounded shortly after the meeting began at 9am.

"Some lawmakers have been leaving the chamber as soon as the quorum is met, this habit shouldn't [go on]," Tsang said.

The council meeting was suspended in the afternoon for a meeting of the Finance Committee, which faces a filibuster of its own over the government's request for HK$340.8 million for preparatory work on two new towns. Chairman Ng Leung-sing rejected all but nine of the 720 amendments filed by Leung, Raymond Chan and Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the NeoDemocrats.

But the near 2-1/2-hour meeting saw little progress as lawmakers raised a series of questions.