Hong Kong’s pro-establishment lawmakers have proposed amendments to legislature rules in a bid to stop their rivals looking into police handling of anti-government protests last year, while seeking to prioritise their own investigation into alleged foreign interference in the unrest.
Opposition lawmakers were considering legal challenges to the plan, which they say would jeopardise their freedom of speech.
A month into the new term of the Legislative Council, the pro-establishment majority has suggested an array of amendments to house rules targeting tactics the opposition has used over the past year to stall Legco proceedings and bills they consider to be controversial.
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Pan-democrats see this as targeting their calls for the setting up of a select committee to investigate police behaviour during last year’s social unrest, including the attack of July 21 by a white-clad mob in Yuen Long rail station, and the August 31 incident that saw riot police storming into Prince Edward rail station.
Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, who submitted the proposal, wants to lower the priority for debating these motions under Legco’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance and give way to other motions.
“[The opposition] jumped the queue again and again by abusing the power under the ordinance,” said Cheung, an executive councillor and member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). “Not even one motion raised by members relating to livelihood issues could be debated for a long period of time.
“If we are not dealing with this soon, Legco will end up in a state of paralysis again.”
If passed, his amendment could give priority to a motion down the list, by his ally Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, which calls for an investigation with special powers into the alleged foreign interference and sources of funding for last year’s protests.
On Wednesday, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said he thought the amendments might breach Legco ordinances that secure lawmakers’ privileges and freedom of speech.
He said his bloc would meet on Friday to discuss the feasibility of lodging a judicial review.
“How can they justify the introduction of a new threshold that will deprive the minority of the rights of debating certain motions? The unfair treatment of lawmakers is highly disputable,” he said.
The opposition was confident there were legal grounds for the case but had concerns about raising funds for the legal battle under the sweeping national security law, Wan added.
The DAB’s vice-chairman also proposed measures to limit the procedures for any elections of a committees’ chairman to 30 minutes by cancelling on-site nomination arrangements, and self-introduction sessions of candidates.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who presided over meetings to elect a chairman of the House Committee, was criticised by local and Beijing authorities for deliberately stalling the proceedings for half a year since October last year.
Kwok then said he hoped to block the since-passed national anthem bill.
Targeting continued filibustering in the council, the pro-government camp also suggested shortening the time spent debating motions of subsidiary legislation for each member, from 15 minutes to five minutes per session. It is up to the president to decide the length of a session.
Paul Tse Wai-chun, chairman of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, also agreed the amendments in principle.
“Legal challenges by the opposition are welcomed,” he said. “We have been tolerant for a long time. We need to find ways to end those chaotic scenes.”
Tse said he would circulate them among all members for two weeks before holding a special meeting for deliberation.
He hoped the amendment of the house rules would come into effect in less than a month if it passed smoothly through the House Committee.
This article Hong Kong lawmakers clash over proposed Legco rule changes first appeared on South China Morning Post