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Hong Kong localism and independence

Threat of second walkout had ‘some effect’, Legco president admits as he ponders U-turn on oath-taking saga

Andrew Leung says he will ‘examine changes in circumstances’ before deciding whether two localist lawmakers who insulted China can retake oaths on Wednesday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 October, 2016, 2:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 November, 2016, 11:01am

Threatened with another walkout by the pro-government camp, the Legislative Council president appeared on Monday to waver in his earlier decision to let two anti-China localist lawmakers retake their oaths at Wednesday’s sitting.

“I am examining the new circumstances with the secretariat – the changes [which took place] since last Wednesday,” an embattled Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said after meeting a group of pan-democratic lawmakers on the issue. “There is no conclusion yet.”

Leung admitted that the threat of another walkout by his former colleagues against Youngspiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching had had “some effect but not pressure” on him revisiting his decision.

The agenda for Wednesday’s meeting released on Monday night showed oath-taking on the agenda, but no lawmakers’ names were listed. It is unclear whether the two will be allowed to take the oath or whether the slot is meant only for another localist, Lau Siu-lai, who took too long when delivering her oath on October 12 but was later told she could retake it.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun dismissed Leung’s apparent change of heart as “only a political change” and said there was no new legal basis for a U-turn. He deemed the “new circumstances” to be the pro-Beijing camp’s plan to get protesters to besiege Legco on Wednesday.

“The legal argument for [giving the pair a second chance] is so strong that no reasonable president would change his mind,” To said.

Last night Baggio Leung said he was still discussing the matter with his lawyers.

In their first oath-taking, the duo pledged loyalty to “the Hong Kong nation” and pronounced China as “Chee-na”, similar to the derogatory “Shina” used by Japan during war time.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying failed to obtain an interim court injunction last Tuesday against the duo retaking their oaths at the meeting the next day. The court, however, granted leave for the administration’s judicial review application, which challenged the president’s first decision to give the localists a second chance, effectively calling for their permanent disqualification.

The government has hired Benjamin Yu SC to join Johnny Mok Shiu-luen SC in the judicial review.

At the hearing last week, the lawyer acting for the Legco president cautioned the court against moves that would constitute “serious deprivation” of the pair’s constitutional rights.

Just as the two were set to re-read their vows on Wednesday, the pro-Beijing camp staged a walkout, abruptly ending the meeting as too few lawmakers were present.

The Legco president then said he would allow the duo to retake their vows this week . On Friday, the Beijing loyalists warned they would stage another walkout if he stuck to his plan.

Pan-democrats argued that the president was bound by the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance that says lawmakers should be sworn in “as soon as possible”, and Legco rule of procedure No 18, which states oath-taking is the first item in the order of business.

But pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee suggested Leung could get round that rule by using another Legco rule, under which he would let a colleague table a motion to suspend No 18. When lawmakers take turns to speak, the debate could further delay the oath-taking session.

Former lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said Beijing officials were “highly concerned” about the oath-taking controversy paralysing the legislature and felt the need to draw a “clear bottom line” on how the Basic Law should be interpreted in the city.

Tong joined a Bar Association delegation last week to meet officials including Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei and director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Wang Guangya.