Legislative Council of Hong Kong

First Hong Kong Legco meeting ends abruptly, as divisions appear to deepen

Opposition lawmakers force adjournment of session, after calling 11 quorum bells

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 1:20am

Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers on Thursday resorted to familiar tactics to force an early end to the second day of the new Legislative Council session, dashing hopes for better ties with the administration and its allies.

The rift between the pan-democrats and the government often paralysed the workings of the legislature during the last administration – a problem Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has vowed to solve.

In their latest salvo, opposition lawmakers forced the adjournment of Thursday’s session after calling 11 quorum bells, a tactic used to grind proceedings to a halt by forcing a headcount that can last up to 15 minutes.

But the pro-Beijing camp did score at least one victory, with the Finance Committee chairman issuing two orders to curb filibustering at the committee level, just minutes before the session ended, five hours ahead of schedule.

And they managed to adjourn a stamp duty bill, paving the way for discussion on Lam’s highly controversial plan for border checks at a new high-speed train line to the mainland.

Charles Mok, convenor of the pro-democracy bloc, said they used stalling tactics because they were unhappy with Lam’s attempt to postpone that bill.

The bill aims to provide the legal foundation for an increase in stamp duty on homes.

But it was successfully adjourned on Wednesday. Lam’s plan to bring forward debate on the checkpoint plan, which would have mainland officials enforce mainland laws in the city, was unaffected by the stoppages and the debate was expected to take place on October 25.

The pro-Beijing camp also took aim at pan-democrats’ attempted rule changes.

It called for Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen to block the proposed sweeping changes to council rules, saying the move had bypassed normal procedures.

The opposition camp on Wednesday proposed 34 amendments to Legco’s rules of procedure, which it said would boost the parliament’s transparency and efficiency.

The proposals, and the filibustering, were seen as attempts to foil the pro-establishment bloc’s own plan to tighten Legco rules, curbing delaying tactics and making it harder for the legislature to investigate city officials.

Thursday’s meeting was adjourned at 3.05pm after opposition legislators called for a headcount for the 11th time. Only 34 pro-establishment lawmakers showed up in the chamber after 15 minutes, falling one short of the quorum requirement.

Both camps blamed each other for the abrupt ending.

“There are 40 pro-establishment members in Legco, so whenever they are all here, there is no way we can have meetings abandoned,” Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party, said.

“I have no idea how on Earth anyone could blame this particular matter on us.”

The pro-Beijing camp fired back that the pan-democrats were being irresponsible.

“Are they not lawmakers? Do they get paid for their jobs? Why don’t they need to attend the meetings?” Wong Kwok-kin, a pro-Beijinger who missed the 11th and final quorum call by a few seconds, said.

Wong said it was only an “accident” that he and some of his colleagues failed to rush back to the chamber on time.

However, a source in the pro-Beijing camp admitted some of them thought their work was essentially done after postponing the stamp duty debate, and that there was no longer any need for a quorum.

Meanwhile, chairman of the Legco Finance Committee Chan Kin-por issued two orders to curb filibustering related to the government’s cash requests.

The changes included banning lawmakers kicked out for improper behaviour from returning to the chamber on the same day. Under current rules, they are allowed to enter the next two-hour session.

The other change curtailed debates over motions on shortening the duration of the voting bell, and will take effect at Friday’s meeting. Debates over the length of the voting bell had also been used for filibustering.

Additional reporting by Ernest Kao