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Legislative Council

Rule of law sacred but we can still make peace with pan-dems, Hong Kong’s No 2 official says

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung sets out bottom line for better ties with opposition lawmakers after four disqualifications

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 July, 2017, 11:52pm

Hong Kong’s No 2 official drew a bottom line on Thursday, making it clear that the government would not compromise the rule of law to mend fences with opposition lawmakers alienated by the recent disqualification of four members of their camp.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung was speaking a day after the final meeting of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee ended in chaos, with five out of eight government funding requests untouched before the three-month summer break.

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The pan-democrats dragged out the funding debate on Wednesday to protest against what they called “a declaration of war” after the High Court ruled in favour of the government and stripped four lawmakers – Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim – of their seats over improper oath-taking.

“The eight-hour [Finance Committee] meeting was a challenge to us ... as we could see the pan-democrats’ reactions and the split in the society,” Cheung told a media gathering. “But we will not waver in our determination to improve ties.”

While stressing the administration was sincere in extending an olive branch to the pan-democrats, Cheung also spelled out the bottom lines in terms of observing the rule of law and seeing to the overall public interest and well-being of the community.

“These three bottom lines are very important but beyond that everything is entirely negotiable,” he said.

Cheung added that the administration was considering the reopening of a popular public gathering space dubbed Civic Square at its Tamar headquarters – the east wing forecourt, which was shut down in 2014 after major sit-in protests – hopefully by next year.

Oath-taking antics: The acts that got six Hong Kong lawmakers disqualified

The pan-democrats have listed several demands for the government to make peace with them, such as waiving the huge legal fees owed by the four disqualified lawmakers and holding by-elections for their vacated seats separately from polls for two other seats left empty by ousted pro-independence duo Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching last year. They stand to lose two seats if the by-elections are lumped together.

But Cheung stopped short on Thursday of committing to such calls, adding that the government was waiting for advice from the Department of Justice on how to handle the matter of legal fees.

Separately, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she was disappointed to see five funding applications still in limbo, and that political issues should be resolved by political means.

I won’t target more Hong Kong pan-democrats in oath-taking saga, Carrie Lam says

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said the pan-democrats’ demands did not cross the limits set by Cheung.

“Waiving the legal fees of the lawmakers will not undermine the rule of law; and the harmony it brings in the long term, it might in fact improve the well-being of the community,” he said.

But Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan urged the government not to back down.