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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Pan-dems set up new panels to protest proposed Hong Kong Legco rule changes

Opposition bloc, short on numbers in the chamber, attempts showcase value a power which pro-establishment members want to weaken

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 8:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 1:51pm

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators attempted to showcase the benefits of a power that their opponents want to take from them, by voting on Wednesday to set up committees looking into two hot-button local issues.

Their successful bid came amid their failing attempts to stall the debate on changes to the Legislative Council’s rule book, proposed by the pro-establishment bloc to curb filibustering.

The changes are likely go through with Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen ordering extra meetings between Wednesday and next Monday, or until the debate on the amendments is completed.

The 23 pan-democrats, plus medical sector representative Pierre Chan, successfully requested two new committees. One will look into cost overruns at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the other into the sale of shopping malls by Link Reit, Asia’s largest property investment trust.

Currently, Legco has to set up a select committee once 20 of its 70 lawmakers back a petition to do so. The pro-establishment camp has suggested raising the threshold to 35.

Pro-democracy camp convenor Charles Mok said Wednesday’s move was an attempt to showcase the value of the current rules.

Lam rejects call to mediate tensions in Legco over rule book changes

“Our aim is not to drag out the debate, but to demonstrate the use of the petition system to the public,” Mok said. The pan-democrats are worried that they may become the last petitions they can file, he added.

And Kwok Ka-ki, of the Civic Party, said: “In this house we are a minority, but we are representing the majority of the people in Hong Kong.

“By changing the rules and regulations, the pro-establishment camp is taking away the right of the legislature and the public to inspect and regulate wrongdoing by the government.”

The camp found an unlikely ally in the call for the Link Reit committee, in New People’s Party chairwoman – and noted pro-Beijinger – Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee.

Ip is being sued by a local columnist over her recent remarks about the company, and was the only pro-establishment legislator to back the petition.

But she said her backing did not mean she agreed that the threshold should stay the same.

“The threshold of 20 is low,” she said. “It has not been updated for a long time.

“When there are any issues involving major public interests, various political parties would be willing to support.”

She said raising the threshold to 35 would ensure a stronger public mandate for the committees.

Pro-establishment members currently have an edge over their rivals in Legco, after a court disqualified six elected pan-democrats disqualified from their seats for failing to take their oaths of office properly.

They had raised 24 proposals including the one raising the committee petition threshold and lowering the quorum requirement from 35 to 20 for certain types of weekly meetings of the 70-member council. The others were mainly aimed at effectively curbing their opponents’ delaying tactics, which include repeatedly calling for quorum counts, making long speeches and tabling stacks of amendments.

On Wednesday afternoon, pro-democracy activists were still camped on the pavement outside the Legco complex, to show their displeasure at the proposed rule changes.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organises the city’s annual pro-democracy march on July 1, had scheduled a rally for Wednesday evening calling on Hongkongers to guard their “last line of defence”.

“Guard the rule book. Guard the last line of defence,” they said in recent advertisements, saying the current rules are important for the public to monitor the government and not allow it to “bulldoze through draconian legislation”.

As the debate on the proposed rule changes resumed on Wednesday afternoon, after the session last week descended into chaos, pan-democrats deployed delaying tactics, such as adjournment motions.

One of them, Ray Chan Chi-chuen of People Power, argued that the meeting should be adjourned to allow lawmakers to debate a motion calling on Japan to apologise on the 80th anniversary of the Nanking massacre.

Yet, Andrew Leung rejected all three motions, saying there was no urgency for such a debate.

Meanwhile, a group of 29 academics launched a petition campaign in protest of the house rule changes, as they feared it would gravely weaken the legislature’s power to monitor the government and eventually result in poor governance.

They also argued some of the amendments – such as the one to raise the quorum from 20 to 35 for investigations of public officers – had nothing to do with filibustering but would make it harder to hold officials to account.

“The proposed amendments would yield a very bad impact as that means a lot of discussions could be shortened,” Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok, one of the signatories, said. “It is also a dangerous move to centralise the powers at the hands of the Legco presidents or other committee chairmen as I believe different public opinions should be reflected in the legislature.”

Some 200 scholars and more than 3,000 members of the public had signed the petition in three days as of Wednesday afternoon.