Hong Kong lawmakers consider protest numbers in considering day or night end to reform debate
Members concerned about protest numbers in considering length of Legco discussion
Few surprises are expected when lawmakers vote this week on the government's package for the 2017 chief executive election, widely tipped to collapse under a collective pledge by all 27 pan-democrats to block it.
The real action seems to be shaping up instead outside the Legislative Council building in Admiralty - where thousands of protesters are expected to rally tomorrow night to condemn the "undemocratic" reform plan.
As the prospects of a protest loom, legislators on both sides of the divide are crossing swords behind the scenes on when to carry out the historic vote, with Beijing loyalists hoping to get it over during working hours so they can avoid the sea of protesters while leaving the premises, and pan-democrats wanting to time the ballot at night when there will be more demonstrators.
The lawmakers will start discussing the government's blueprint this afternoon. Under usual practice, Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing will stop the meeting at 8pm if he believes the debate is unlikely to end by 10pm.
Labour Party stalwart Lee Cheuk-yan expects the whole debate to take up to about 17 hours if every lawmaker speaks for the maximum 15 minutes each member is allowed.
"The pan-democrats would not have to do much as the meeting would naturally end on Thursday night if Tsang allowed it to go on beyond 8pm," he said.
But the Beijing loyalists met earlier to discuss how to deal with the issue - and now have several strategies up their sleeves.
Repeatedly calling for a quorum count would be an option, Liberal Party chairman Felix Chung Kwok-pan revealed.
Legco rules define the quorum as not less than half of all the legislature's 70 members, including the president, who, in the event this is not met, can ring the quorum bell for 15 minutes to summon absent members.
This strategy is an oft-used filibustering tool of radical pan-democrats to drag out debate.
Chung was also optimistic Tsang would not easily extend the meeting beyond 8pm, when more protesters would join the rally.
Another Beijing loyalist, Wong Kwok-kin of the Federation of Trade Unions, said all pro-establishment parties had been asked to list which of their lawmakers had to speak during the debate, in an attempt to shorten the meeting.
If Legco cannot wrap up the debate by 5pm on Thursday, Beijing loyalists would adopt "plan B" - allowing the rest of their lawmakers to speak to extend the debate to the next morning, when most of the protesters would have gone back to work.
Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok dismissed the paranoia about the impending protest, saying it was ridiculous for Beijing loyalists to time their escape from the crowds.