Hong Kong’s pan-democrats to save firepower for controversial issues in Legislative Council, convenor Charles Mok reveals
Opposition plans to eschew obscure tactics in Legco to avoid rule book changes, lawmaker says
Hong Kong’s pan-democrat lawmakers will save their limited firepower to use on controversial issues and eschew obscure Legislative Council procedural tactics to oppose legislation, their outgoing convenor said.
In an interview with the Post, Charles Mok reflected on recent events, especially the highly charged debates over changes to Legco’s rule book and the controversial joint checkpoint, or so-called co-location, plan for the cross-border express rail terminus.
“Our camp has reached a consensus that we won’t push the rule book to its limits and dig up clauses that have never been used before,” he said. “Use a trick once [to block a bill], and that rule book trick may be blocked next time.”
The IT sector lawmaker, of the Professionals Guild group, has been coordinator of the pan-democratic camp for the past year and will hand over to Claudia Mo Man-ching of the Council Front after the summer break.
The bloc holds 25 seats out of 68 in Legco, having lost six lawmakers last year after they were disqualified in the oath-taking saga. Being in the minority, the camp could not stop the amendments to Legco’s rules of procedures last December.
Using the changes, Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen imposed a 36-hour limit for the final debate on the co-location plan which allows mainland Chinese immigration and customs authorities to operate in the West Kowloon terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link.
Democrats responded by proposing amendments, adjournment motions and sparingly ringing quorum bells, but could not stop the bill from being passed in the space of just two weeks.
To avoid handing more power to Leung the democrats would not launch a “total war” in Legco, despite there already being less room for filibustering, Mok said. Their efforts could be saved for more hot-button issues, such as a national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law, he said.
He questioned whether the minority would be able to make a comeback in the legislature, but nevertheless urged supporters to keep up pressure on controversial issues, instead of remaining as “bystanders”.
Showdowns aside, it proved to be an efficient year for Legco. Between October last year and July, 26 bills were passed – compared with 12 in the previous session. The Finance Committee also approved a five-year high of HK$251 billion (US$32.2 billion) for government projects.
Mok said Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration was “less hostile, more pragmatic and willing to take opinions on board” than her predecessor Leung Chun-ying, which allowed lawmakers to concentrate more on policies than politics.
“There wasn’t as much meaningless finger-pointing,” Mok said, adding some ministers were prepared to lobby lawmakers in person, while some who served in both administrations “had completely changed attitude”.
But on political matters, he said, Lam remained a hardliner and the government’s position was non-negotiable on the joint checkpoint and the independence movement. Also, the opposition’s improved working relationship with the government did not include better interaction with Beijing.
Mok said democrats had no interest in paying a return visit to Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, following director Wang Zhimin’s attendance at a Legco lunch in April.
Personally, he added, he would not decline a visit to the mainland on policy-related matters.
“We have no interest in showboating but we have nothing urgent to discuss with Beijing,” Mok said.