So far six pan-democratic lawmakers have been disqualified by the court for having failed to take their oath of office properly.
As a result, the pro-democracy camp no longer holds the majority of seats in the geographical constituency and thus loses its veto power under the current split voting system.
Members of the pro-establishment camp are determined to capitalize on their control of both the functional and geographical constituencies. They are proposing amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Council, something that they have always wanted to do but were unable to do until now.
Among their proposed amendments is the suggestion that the threshold for presenting a petition to the Legco be raised, from the current practice of requiring the endorsement of 20 lawmakers, to 35.
They have also proposed that the Legco president be empowered to “re-arrange” the contents of bill amendments tabled by lawmakers that are presented in sequential form, and that the length at which the voting bell is rung during Legco meetings be reduced to one minute from five minutes, without the need to be moved by any lawmaker beforehand.
Leaders of the pro-establishment camp claim the amendments they are proposing are aimed at banning filibusters and nothing more.
The truth, however, is that they are misleading the public. If we take a closer look at their proposals, we can easily tell that their proposed amendments have nothing to do with filibusters.
For example, their suggestion to raise the threshold for presenting a petition to the Council has absolutely no association with filibusters. Over the years, whenever we presented a petition to the Legco president, it would only take around five minutes to complete the entire procedure.
How could anybody call the extra five minutes taken to present a petition an act of filibustering?
In fact, presenting a petition to the Council is our last resort to draw attention to controversial issues in which huge public interest is at stake and to call for Legco inquiry into these issues.
Pan-democrats had to resort to presenting a “petition” from time to time to conduct a public inquiry into subjects of controversy because the pro-establishment camp would always veto any of our attempts to invoke the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance to set up independent commissions to probe government negligence or misconduct of officials.
And since any motion to invoke the ordinance, which gives Legco the power to subpoena witnesses to appear and testify at public hearings, would never pass Legco under our split voting system, demanding a Legco inquiry into crucial matters by presenting a “petition” to the Council, a request that doesn’t need to be put to the vote, has become our last remaining option.
And thanks to the “petition” mechanism, we were able to launch investigations into allegations of corruption against former commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Timothy Tong, the truth behind the delays in the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link project and the alleged secret business dealings between former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and the Australian firm UGL.
However, if members of the pro-establishment camp succeed in raising the threshold for presenting a petition to the Council so that it will require the endorsement of 35, or half of all the lawmakers, then they can veto any petition given their two-thirds majority, thereby stripping Legco of its last remaining oversight powers.
As we can see, the true motive behind their bid to amend the Rules of Procedure is not to ban filibusters, as they claim, but to undermine the oversight powers of the legislature and turn it into a complete rubber stamp for the executive branch.
In response, the pro-democracy camp has submitted proposed amendments to the Rules of Procedure in order to prevent the pro-establishment camp from changing the Council rules in its favor and, at the same time, to enhance the oversight powers of our legislature so that it can better serve the public.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 26
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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