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Legislative Council elections 2016

Hong Kong pro-establishment lawmakers divided over how to deal with radicals

Some newcomers want changes to Legislative Council rules to curb filibustering; others think this will be futile because pan-democrats can block any move

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 11:37pm

As newly elected localist lawmakers pledge to pursue aggressive strategies to oppose the government, the pro-establishment camp in the Legislative Council appears divided on how to respond.

Several rookie pro-establishment lawmakers have proposed revisiting the possibility of amending Legco’s rules, but the more experienced lawmakers in the camp believe it would be more practical for ministers to step up communication with pan-democrat and localist legislators.

Six localists are set to enter the legislature for the first time after winning in Sunday’s Legislative Council elections and they are threatening tougher action against the government.

In the previous term, the pro-establishment camp had to reckon with radical lawmakers such as “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, who repeatedly filibustered in a bid to block unpopular government proposals. Both were re-elected, while three other radicals – Albert Chan Wai-yip, Wong Yuk-man and Gary Fan Kwok-wai - have either retired or lost.

The six localists include Youngspiration leader Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang, 30, and Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung, 23. They said they would use delaying tactics to block unpopular proposals, with Leung going a step further by warning that he might try to occupy the president’s seat to stop proposals being put to a vote.

New People’s Party newcomer Eunice Yung Hoi-yan said one of her priorities would be to think of ways to amend Legco’s rules of procedure, so there would be less filibustering.

Holden Chow Ho-ding, a newly-returned lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, also wants to pursue this option.

“In Britain, there is a ‘guillotine motion’ that legislators can approve to stop a marathon debate. We should learn from that,” Chow said.

“Lawmakers should also only be allowed to call for the quorum bell to be rung at the start of meetings and when a proposal is put to a vote,” he said.

Currently, lawmakers can ask for a quorum call when fewer than half of Legco’s 70 members are in a session. The meeting is adjourned if the quorum is not met after 15 minutes. Radical lawmakers have repeatedly made use of the rule to prolong debates.

However, the Federation of Trade Unions’ Alice Mak Mei-kuen, who won a second term on Sunday, questioned the idea.

“It is difficult to amend the rules of procedure because the reality is that any motion to amend them has to win majority support” she said.

That support must come from both geographical and functional constituency lawmakers, and any proposal is likely to be voted down by the former group, in which pan-democrats and localists hold a majority.

“I am worried about Legco’s operation in the next four years, but all we can do is ... hope that government officials can engage the [pan-democrats and localists] and see if they can reach consensus before each proposal is tabled in Legco,” Mak said.

She also hoped that Hong Kong residents could “speak up if the delaying tactics are unacceptable to them”.

Non-affiliated lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun agreed with Mak. “If the pan-democrats and localists are willing, they can discuss with the pro-establishment camp on the amount of time they want for debate on more controversial matters,” he said.

Tse also agreed that Legco could allow closure motions to bring an end to a filibuster. “But it would again require amendments to existing rules,” he added.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung believed that without the chief executive forging a new working relationship with lawmakers, especially pan-democrats, no strategy adopted by the Beijing-loyalist camp could end Legco conflicts.

“‘Long Hair’ and Raymond Chan were re-elected, Albert Chan retired and Wong Yuk-man lost. That’s an encouraging result for the filibustering lawmakers. Unless we get a new chief executive to adopt a new approach, I don’t think there is any incentive for confrontation to stop,” he said.

He added that with a number of veterans stepping down, there was a risk that the pro-establishment camp would not stay united in face of challenges from their political rivals.

With DAB heavyweights such as Tam Yiu-chung and Ip Kwok-him stepping down, the camp lacks an iconic figure who can hold the lawmakers together.

“Geographical constituency lawmakers usually do a better job than their functional constituency counterparts in countering filibustering because they are elected by ‘one man, one vote’, but the DAB’s directly-elected legislators are relatively new … Even their chairwoman Starry Lee is not a powerful leader yet,” Choy said.