Hong Kong opposition lawmakers raise stakes in impending showdown with local and Beijing governments, all threatening to quit if any among them is disqualified for filibustering

Jeffie Lam
·6-min read

Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers have raised the stakes in an impending showdown with the local and Beijing governments by threatening to resign all at once if anyone among them is disqualified over filibustering in the ­legislature.

Nineteen pan-democratic legislators put on a defiant show of solidarity on Monday in response to reports – confirmed by sources – that China’s top legislative body would consider disqualifying four of them who were earlier barred from contesting the now-postponed Legislative Council elections originally slated for September.

A source told the Post that the National People’s Congress Standing Committee had added the issue to its agenda and could discuss it as early as Tuesday afternoon as part of a two-day session in Beijing.

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“We have decided that we will resign en masse without hesitation if the central government decides to push ahead with the disqualification,” Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, convenor of the pan-democrat bloc, said at a hastily arranged press briefing late on Monday evening.

“It is to demonstrate our extreme discontent and strong protest against the authorities’ ruthless attempt to trample the legislature.”

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Without confirming the agenda before leaving the city for Beijing in the morning, Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the standing committee, warned that opposition lawmakers’ delaying tactics since the beginning of Legco’s extended term made them unsuitable for office.

“As lawmakers, you must act in accordance with Article 104 of the Basic Law, [which states that lawmakers] need to swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and uphold the Basic Law,” Tam said, citing the city’s mini-constitution.

“It isn’t good to use various means to disrupt Legco’s normal operation. We need to face this problem.”

The four facing the risk of being thrown out of Legco were the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki, and Kenneth Leung of the Professionals Guild, a source familiar with the situation said.

The pan-democrats are waiting to see what Beijing will do. Photo: Dickson Lee
The pan-democrats are waiting to see what Beijing will do. Photo: Dickson Lee

The four were barred in July from contesting the Legco elections, which were subsequently postponed for a year by the government, citing coronavirus pandemic concerns, for previously calling on foreign powers to sanction Beijing and Hong Kong over the imposition of the national security law.

Tam was among those who had earlier suggested all four should not continue to serve out their one-year extended term as there was a contradiction in allowing them to stay on after being disqualified from running in polls.

Beijing eventually threw the ball back to the Hong Kong government, which allowed the four to carry on.

A deputy to the national legislature, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the NPCSC would elaborate on whether opposition lawmakers deemed ineligible for re-election by returning officers could continue their extended terms.

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“But the NPCSC is very likely to talk about some principles only, and will not name the four lawmakers directly, even if it eventually concerns them,” the deputy said.

Senior counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser to the government as an Executive Council member, expected the standing committee might deliver a resolution based on Article 104 of the Basic Law, or even interpret the mini-constitution by specifying the circumstances under which legislators could be deemed to have breached their oath.

“The NPCSC may formulate some frameworks or guidelines to state under what circumstances it will be considered a violation of the oath, because there are currently no clear provisions in the Basic Law or Hong Kong law on this,” he said.

Tam Yiu-chung has suggested opposition filibustering at Legco could warrant disqualification. Photo: AP
Tam Yiu-chung has suggested opposition filibustering at Legco could warrant disqualification. Photo: AP

Once the NPCSC passed a resolution, it would be left to the Hong Kong government to take the issue to the local courts for a formal ruling, Tong added.

The opposition lawmakers have adopted stalling tactics in the legislature since the start of their extended term in mid-October by making quorum calls and maximising their floor time over bills that the government considered to be straightforward enough and unnecessary to delay. They successfully forced meetings to be adjourned on three occasions.

Last month, lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen, of the Beijing-friendly Federation of Trade Unions, even called on the Legco president to look into whether the opposition’s delaying tactics had violated the national security law, which stipulates that anyone found to be “seriously interfering in, disrupting or undermining the performance of duties and functions” of the local or central governments is guilty of subversion.

A source from the pro-establishment camp said the conduct of some opposition lawmakers over the past weeks might have upset Beijing, prompting a rethink of its original decision to allow them to stay.

“Things have not improved in the extended term – Beijing will not just sit back and let the filibustering go on,” the lawmaker said.

In 2016, the NPCSC stepped in to penalise newly elected, localist lawmakers Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching for distorting their oaths of office. The country’s top legislative body issued an interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law to rule that public officials would have to take their oaths “sincerely” and “solemnly” or face disqualification.

Critics saw the move as undermining the city’s judicial independence by pre-empting the courts’ decision on a judicial review initiated by the government to disqualify the pair. The city’s High Court ruled one week after the interpretation in favour of the government.

Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector in the legislature, said: “It seems like those in power cannot tolerate opposition any more … they want to get rid of all pan-democrats from the whole of Hong Kong.”

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While Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Leung had all made quorum calls over the past few weeks, sources suggested Dennis Kwok did not specifically do so.

Leung described the latest disqualification threat as “irrational”, adding: “The legislators here have been operating and monitoring the government within the realm of the rules of procedure and the laws of Hong Kong. There will be no future for this Legco if the disqualification goes ahead.”

The opposition camp was earlier in disarray over how to respond when Beijing decided to extend the Legco term by a year. While some, including then-lawmakers Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, called for a boycott over the “illegal term”, the remaining 19 pan-democrats decided to stay on to fight against unpopular bills, including one which would allow Hongkongers living on the mainland to vote in the city’s elections, being pushed through by the government.

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