20 October 2019
Several opposition lawmakers left their seats and staged a protest during a Thursday Legco session that was called to discuss controversial amendments to the legislature's rules of procedure. Photo: HKEJ
Several opposition lawmakers left their seats and staged a protest during a Thursday Legco session that was called to discuss controversial amendments to the legislature's rules of procedure. Photo: HKEJ

Legco debate on house rule changes ends in chaos

A debate on proposed changes to the Legislative Council’s rules of procedure descended into chaos on Thursday as pan-democrats did everything they could to disrupt the discussion and engaged in fierce verbal exchanges with pro-establishment lawmakers.

Aiming to stall amendments to the house rules that would reduce their ability to delay or block controversial bills and motions, opposition lawmakers demanded a roll call eight times in the legislature to check if there was a quorum for the meeting to continue.

Some lawmakers left their seats and staged a protest, shouting slogans and disrupting the proceedings. 

In the end, the Legco debate saw nothing meaningful being achieved, and the session was adjourned.

Changes to Legco meeting rules were proposed by the pro-establishment bloc in October in a bid to curb the ability of the pan-democrats from interfering with discussions through filibustering, a tactic that opposition lawmakers had been resorting to frequently in recent years.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said that Legco’s rules of procedure are outdated and not fit for today’s political system.

However, democrats have been strongly against making changes to the rules, as they argue that the proposed changes will restrict room for lawmakers to express their opinions and make it a lot easier for the government to get controversial bills passed in Legco.

The planned changes in the rules of procedure won’t be good for Hong Kong people as the rules will enable the government to bulldoze unpopular bills through the house, the pan-democrats say.

As the debate on the rule changes began on Thursday, opposition lawmakers resorted to multiple actions to stall the discussions.

Besides demanding a roll call eight times to check if there was a quorum, a tactic that led to about one hour and 22 minutes getting used up, democrats jointly chanted slogans many times as a form of protest, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The most intense clash between the pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp took place at around 6:30 pm, when Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin shouted out slogans such as “If they amend meeting rules today, they will legislate Article 23 tomorrow”, during his speech.

After that, about 20 democrats stood on the rostrum and raised signs expressing similar sentiments.

Three lawmakers — Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Chan Chi-chuen from People Power, and Ted Hui Chi-fung from the Democratic Party — even sat on the floor in a circle at one point.

Beijing-friendly lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, who chairs the committee on rules of procedure, compared democrats’ actions as akin to those befitting an organization like the Taliban.

The chaotic scenes prompted Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen to call recess three times in total during Thursday’s meeting, which ended at about 8 pm without any constructive discussions.

Asked after the meeting as to why he did not order eviction of the protesting democrats, Leung said he had promised both sides earlier that he would be tolerant as much as possible.

Calling the situation very unfavorable and abnormal, Leung said he hopes both camps will exercise self-control next Wednesday when meetings resume. But he admitted that divisions between the two political camps are still huge even after some negotiations.

It is believed that the pan-democrats wanted every Legco member to have 210 minutes to express their opinions on amendments of the meeting rules proposed by Martin Liao Cheung-kong, who represents the pro-establishment camp, but Liao considered it utterly unacceptable.

Liao and Leung are said to have refused to accept the demand.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu vowed there will more drastic filibustering moves from democrats if the pro-establishment camp aims to amend the rules by force.

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