Pro-establishment camp, pan-dems set to square off on Saturday

May 08, 2019 13:34
Pro-establishment and pan-democratic lawmakers are at loggerheads over the bills committee that will deliberate on the proposed changes to the fugitives law. Photo: Bloomberg

More than half of the members of the Legislative Council's bills committee, which is deliberating on the proposed amendments to the fugitives law, have agreed to adopt the guideline issued by Legco’s House Committee.

As such, the Legco Secretariat announced on Monday that Abraham Shek Lai-him of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPAHK) will replace James To Kun-sun of the Democratic Party in presiding over the next meeting of the bills committee in order to elect its chairman and deputy chairman.

After the Legco Secretariat’s announcement had been published, Shek immediately canceled a bills committee meeting originally scheduled for Monday afternoon and moved it to 9:00 a.m. this Saturday.

Despite the moves, the pan-democrats refused to back down and held their own bills committee meeting on Monday afternoon as scheduled, during which they elected To as chairman, who scheduled the next meeting to be held on Saturday.

As to why the pro-establishment camp has also chosen to hold the meeting on Saturday, sources in the bloc said it could be an attempt to play safe: they didn't want to make it appear that they recognize the date chosen by To, i.e., May 6, Monday.

Meanwhile, there is also a view within the pro-Beijing camp that postponing the next meeting a few days would allow the pan-dems to calm down and play ball.

That the two camps have chosen the same date to hold the next bills committee meeting indicates that both are determined to go head to head with each other over the bill.

A pro-Beijing lawmaker has said the pan-dems are welcome to join their meeting on Saturday in their capacity as bills committee members, while acknowledging that intense rows between the two camps would be inevitable at the meeting.

On the other hand, there is a view that the pan-dems are now caught in a self-inflicted dilemma.

According to this view, if the pan-dems attend the meeting called by the pro-Beijing camp on Saturday, it would be a de facto recognition of both its legitimacy and the guideline released by the house committee.

Yet if they decide to boycott the meeting called by the pro-establishment camp and hold their own, they would simply give the pro-government legislators a free hand in accelerating the scrutiny of the bill.

A pan-democratic lawmaker stressed that no final decision has been made yet over what to do regarding the two parallel meetings on Saturday.

So will the Legco dispute inevitably find its way into the courts? A pro-Beijing lawmaker said such a scenario is very unlikely.

The lawmaker explained that the court has refused to intervene in the internal affairs of the legislature in the past, and there is no reason why it would make an exception this time around.

Besides, the pro-establishment camp has already sought advice from various legal advisors over the matter, and have been told that its decision can withstand legal challenges, the lawmaker said.

However, a pan-democratic lawmaker believes otherwise, saying that the court might eventually find Legco unfit to handle its own dispute and decide to intervene, as the pro-establishment camp may continue to make mistakes over possible disputes over the bill scrutiny process.

To said in a radio program on Tuesday morning that the Legco Secretariat or the administration could possibly approach the court to confirm which chairman is legitimate. But he said he is unable, for the time being, to anticipate the situation on Saturday.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 7

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.