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Hong Kong MTR

Uproar at Legco after snap vote leads to passage of HK$19.6 billion for Hong Kong high-speed rail link

The Finance Committee’s acting chairman moved for a vote as pan-democrats were absent from the chamber

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2016, 2:00am

The HK$19.6 billion extra funding request for the controversial express rail link from Hong Kong to Guangdong was abruptly passed by the legislature’s Finance Committee yesterday, triggering chaos inside and outside the chamber.

An angry legislator threw ink at acting committee chairman Chan Kam-lam as he out-manoeuvred pan-democratic lawmakers’ efforts to stall the vote, while police had to forcibly remove protesters who had the building.

The drama erupted at around 5pm, two hours into the meeting, when Chan suddenly called for a vote on the government’s request for extra money to complete the railway that will link Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

Moments before the vote, newly elected Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, used a megaphone to complain that he was only given seven minutes to ask questions even though he had not participated in the funding request debates before.

“I know Mr Alvin Yeung has been returned by 160,000 voters… but while you are here [in the chamber], you have to act according to the rules of procedure,” Chan told Yeung. “You don’t enjoy any privilege just because you have gained a certain number of votes.”

READ MORE: Hong Kong’s pan-democrats rethink tactics on blocking funding request for high-speed rail link

As Yeung continued to protest, Chan called for security to remove him from the chamber, at which point, all the pan-democrats left their seats and stood around their new colleague.

When they refused to return to their seats, the acting chairman suddenly put the funding request to a vote, relying on raised hands among pro-establishment lawmakers still in their seats .

The vote was taken in the main chamber after the meeting had to be suspended three times in another room, where radical lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung threw ink at Chan, forcing him to go the bathroom to clean up.

Soon after the vote, around a dozen activists from Leung’s party, the League of Social Democrats, and the Land Justice League stormed into the Legislative Council’s lobby.

Scuffles broke out between the activists and security guards as they tried to rush into the chamber.

“The vote is void! Shame on Chan Kam-lam!” they shouted as they grappled with security, and police were called in.

The activists remained in the legislature for around three hours before being removed by officers, who carried them out one by one without any violence.

The arguments raged on after the meeting, over whether Chan’s surprise move was in accordance with Legco rules.

Speaking to the media after the snap vote, lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan, convenor of an alliance of 23 pan-democrats, apologised to the public for not being able to block the funding.

Ho accused Chan of abusing his power and described the vote as “violence in Legco”. She did not rule out seeking a judicial review to overturn the decision.

The pro-establishment camp, however, insisted that Chan acted fairly and rationally, in accordance with the rules.

Veteran lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong hailed Chan’s “patient and careful” conduct.

“Chan repeatedly asked the pan-democrats to stop messing around and return to their seats in order to proceed with the motions,” Tam said. “But sadly they kept breaking order.”

Tam, also an executive councillor, said the debate had been delayed too many times by the pan-democrats’ filibustering.

Former Civic Party lawmaker and barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah said it was hard to discern at this stage if there were reasonable grounds to challenge the handling of the vote in court.

Tong noted that courts had reiterated in previous legal challenges against Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-tsing’s decisions to halt filibusters that they had no intention of interfering with legislative proceedings.

Additional reporting by Gary Cheung