20 January 2019
Lawmaker Eddie Chu played a key role in the pan-democrats' efforts to delay a vote in the Legco on the government's motion related to the cross-border express rail link. Photo: HKEJ
Lawmaker Eddie Chu played a key role in the pan-democrats' efforts to delay a vote in the Legco on the government's motion related to the cross-border express rail link. Photo: HKEJ

Co-location debate stalls in Legco as democrats pull new trick

Opposition lawmakers on Thursday stalled a Legislative Council debate on a motion tabled by the government in relation to the so-called co-location arrangements for the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link.

Through a clever filibustering tactic, lawmakers forced adjournment of the debate and ensured that the Carrie Lam administration won’t get the non-binding motion passed quickly in the legislature.

It will now take at least about two weeks before Legco can put the motion again for voting, given that the house will be preoccupied with other agenda in the coming days.

According to the Legco schedule, lawmakers will have to focus next week on Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s recent policy address, and complete the motion of thanks in relation to the speech.

The government had been hoping to get the motion on the co-location plan passed this week, but now it will have to settle for a later date.

Last week, the government moved a motion on the controversial plan with an aim to highlight its benefits through debates, hoping lawmakers can approve it as soon as possible so that it can meet the timeframe of a “three-step process” before the express rail can begin operations late next year.

But deliberation on the plan has been stalled as opposition groups resorted to filibustering, including a surprise move made on Oct. 25 by lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who cited a clause of Legco rules of procedure that has not been cited since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Pan-democrats are opposed to the co-location plan as it would allow mainland border control officials to operate at the West Kowloon terminus, the Hong Kong end of the cross-border rail service.

After the debate resumed on Wednesday, Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen expected to put the plan to vote on Thursday, only to be caught off guard again.

Chu made another surprise move by citing No. 81(1) of Legco’s rules of procedure and asking members of the press and of the public to leave the chamber, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

While Leung approved Chu’s motion as there was “no choice”, he denied another motion by democrats for adjourning deliberation on the co-location plan.

Leung later evicted Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung after the latter challenged the Legco chief over a decision to cut short the time allocated for discussing Chu’s motion.

Hui’s eviction prompted a protest from other democrats, who accused Leung of abusing his power.

As the situation grew more and more chaotic, Leung finally called a recess, which made voting on the co-location plan impossible.

Leung told reporters afterwards that he made the decision on his own to adjourn the meeting, and that he had not notified the government beforehand.

Lawmaker Charles Mok Nai-kwong said all that the democrats tried to do was to express their discontent with the pro-establishment camp’s efforts to revise the Legco rules of procedure.

Starry Lee Wai-king, a lawmaker who heads the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, slammed democrats for blocking a vote on the rail link co-location plan, accusing of them deliberately stalling the debate.

The events, in fact, are proof that there are flaws in the existing Legco rules of procedure, she said.

Secretary for Justice, Rimsky Yuen, expressed disappointment over the stalled vote and charged democrats with filibustering and abuse of rules of procedure.

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