Outrage in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council as five lawmakers barred ahead of crucial vote on China joint rail checkpoint
Legislators evicted a day earlier were refused entry to the chamber on Thursday, in a move past Legco president says breaks the rules
The president of Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday stopped five opposition lawmakers from rejoining the chamber just hours before they were due to vote on a controversial bill for a joint border checkpoint with mainland China based in the heart of the city.
Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen’s move immediately drew fire from Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp of politicians as well as a pro-government lawmaker who heads a committee on Legislative Council rules.
The five opposition legislators were evicted on Wednesday for staging a protest, but the president did not have the power to deny them entry to the following day’s meeting, according to Paul Tse Wai-chun, chairman of the committee on Legco’s rules of procedure.
That view was echoed by former Legco president Andrew Wong Wang-fat, who said Leung had also erred in several other decisions he made in an attempt to control the pace of the debate.
Thursday’s critical vote will decide the fate of a long-debated “co-location” plan for an immigration and customs checkpoint serving a new high-speed rail link from Hong Kong to mainland Chinese cities.
The facility will be based in downtown Hong Kong at West Kowloon station, where a portion of the rail terminal will be handed over to mainland officers who will enforce national laws on Hong Kong soil for the first time. The idea is to make cross-border travel easier for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link.
Leung announced early on Thursday that the final vote would take place by the end of the day.
But drama unfolded as the meeting resumed in the morning as three of the evicted democrats – Andrew Wan Siu-kin, Au Nok-hin and Ted Hui Chi-fung – tried entering the chamber but were turned away by security guards.
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“Leung is abusing his own power to deprive us of our rights. It is totally outrageous,” Hui said. “He is probably barring us for the sake of preventing any chaos, but participating in a meeting is a basic responsibility and right for lawmakers.”
The trio argued Leung had misinterpreted the rulebook and said they would consider taking legal action.
Surprisingly, rules committee chairman Tse agreed.
“Leung may have overlooked the new situation in place since amendments to the rulebook,” Tse said. He was referring to changes pushed by the legislature’s pro-establishment bloc aimed at curbing their opponents’ delaying tactics, which have included repeatedly calling for quorum counts to ensure a sufficient number of lawmakers are present to continue a meeting.
Tse said the different stages of Legco meetings had different rules, so the lawmakers evicted on Wednesday should have been allowed to rejoin the debate when discussions on the bill proceeded to the final stages.
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Leung had also made a mistake by capping the debate time and barring some lawmakers from speaking, Wong said.
“The decision to throw the lawmakers out was not a punishment. It was only to maintain order on one day of the meeting. Basically, tomorrow is another day,” said Wong, who chaired Legco from 1995 to 1997.
Leung capped the co-location debate at 36 hours to ensure the bill would be passed before Legco’s summer break in mid-July.
But Wong said Leung did not have such power, and any such restriction should be proposed by council members.
He argued this power had been wrongly interpreted since the time of Leung’s predecessor, Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.
“The issue at hand can easily be solved. Lawmakers can raise a procedural motion and propose capping the time for debate,” Wong said. “If more than half of the lawmakers agree then we’ll have a temporary order.
“The power [to close the debate] should be vested in the whole council or the majority of lawmakers. It was wrong for the president to think that if there was no explicit provision in the Legco rules then the power was his,” Wong said.
The former Legco president also held strong reservations about a decision to call police to investigate minor injuries sustained by two security guards on Wednesday. The move was unprecedented and amounted to “inviting intervention from the administrative branch”, Wong said.
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Handing the power to maintain order in Legco to police was detrimental, he added.
But Leung earlier defended the move and said the Legislative Council Commission had implemented a protocol whereby police would be called when security guards were hurt.
Legco was only being a “responsible employer” by doing so, the current president said.