Protesters camped outside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council removed as pan-democrats fight against rule changes
Metal barricades last seen during Occupy movement in 2014 rolled out, with about a dozen legislators and activists setting up tents
Metal barricades and metre-high fences last used to restrain protesters during the Occupy movement in 2014 reappeared on Monday around Hong Kong’s legislature, as pan-democratic lawmakers vowed to hold overnight vigils against rules to curb filibustering.
By evening, they had set up several tents, as tensions grew between them and the pro-establishment camp. In a scene reminiscent of the 79-day civil disobedience campaign, some 100 protesters inside the Legislative Council demonstration zone were removed by security staff and police officers when they refused to leave.
“Camping carries a symbolic meaning that we are determined to stay and fight,” lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick said earlier Monday evening. “We will stay until victory.”
Chu was referring to pro-democracy lawmakers’ attempts to block the pro-establishment group’s bid to amend meeting rules, fuelling weeks of antagonism.
Pro-democracy lawmakers said they feared the rule book changes would pave the way for the government to “bulldoze through draconian legislation” such as the controversial national security law. But pro-establishment lawmakers want to tighten rules to nip filibustering, a favoured tactic of pro-democracy lawmakers to block bills or motions they disagree with.
On Monday, a decision by Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen made it almost certain the pro-establishment camp’s bid would succeed by next week at the latest, prompting the latest action by the pan-democrats.
Leung ordered extra meetings to be held between this Wednesday and next Monday, or until the debate was completed.
He further drew the ire of pan-democrats when he ruled against their request to debate 97 additional motions at Wednesday’s council meeting, before resuming the rule book debate.
Last week, when Legco finally began a debate on amendments to the rule book, pan-democrats staged a protest in the chamber, with many refusing to return to their seats.
On Friday, the chairwoman of Legco’s house committee – which sets the agenda for the council’s weekly sessions – backed down from a wrangle with pan-democrats on the additional motions, and said she would leave it to Leung to decide if those could be given priority at the next Legco meeting.
The latest drama in Legco prompted its former president, Andrew Wong Wang-fat, to call on both camps to seek rapprochement. Wong, who chaired Legco between 1995 and 1997, said the opposing sides had taken things too far.
He argued that some of the pro-establishment camp’s proposed amendments might go against the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
“They ought to handle that much more carefully and spend more time in trying to arrive at something that all parties agree to,” Wong said.
Pro-establishment supporters jailed for illegal protest under same rules that saw Nathan Law put behind bars
The specific amendment the veteran politician was referring to was the proposal to lower the quorum requirement from 35 to 20 for meetings of the 70-member council that focus on scrutinising bills. This would effectively make it harder for opponents to the bills to call for quorum counts as a means of dragging out the debate.
Article 75 of the Basic Law states “the quorum for the meeting of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be not less than one half of all its members.”
But the pro-establishment bloc argued the quorum requirement should not apply in meetings to scrutinise bills as lawmakers are in those circumstances allowed to give an unlimited number of speeches.
“My personal view is that [this amendment] violates the Basic Law,” Wong said.
Wong also opposed the pro-establishment camp’s suggested expansion of the number of lawmakers required to sit on a select committee to investigate officials, from 20 to 35.
The petition system was intended to help citizens facing unfair treatment from the government to file their complaints through the help of minority lawmakers, he said.
Wong added that the Legco president already enjoyed adequate power to ensure meetings were effective, and he urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to call for a reconciliation instead of joining the chorus of lawmakers raring for the rule book change.
Leung on Monday fended off accusations he had ordered additional meetings to favour his pro-establishment allies and that he was under pressure from Beijing to ensure the rule book changes happened.
Watch: Hong Kong pro-democracy groups march
He added that the Legco Commission, which handles the council’s administrative matters, would discuss the security measures on Tuesday. The fences and barricades erected at the Legco complex’s protest zone meant security there was on par with protective measures during the civil disobedience movement three years ago demanding greater democracy.
But the pro-democracy camp was not convinced, and accused Leung of losing his impartiality. There was no real urgency to discuss the amendments, they said.
“The decision [to complete the debate] is politically motivated and would set a bad precedent,” pro-democracy camp convenor Charles Mok said, adding that the discord in Legco would not end even if the amendments were passed.
Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun charged that the metal fences represented the “fear and cowardice” of the pro-establishment bloc.
Outside the barricades, just after 11pm, Legco security staff told the 100 protesters sitting in the demonstration zone they needed to leave or else they would be removed.
After nobody exited, at about 11.30pm, the staff began carrying out protesters one by one.