The Legislative Council meeting on Thursday was prematurely halted owing to low attendance, as democrats repeatedly requested headcounts to stall the session.
The pro-democracy camp were protesting against a government effort to “jump the queue” and bring forward a debate on the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement to next week.
Despite the protests, the government motion to postpone the Stamp Duty (Amendment) Bill 2017 debate – a measure to control the overheated property market- was passed. However, the meeting was prematurely adjourned shortly afterwards since lawmakers had failed to show up in another headcount.
Pro-democracy lawmakers blamed the adjournment on Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s decision to suspend the stamp duty debate: “She puts politics over livelihood and politics over legislative procedures,” said the camp’s convener Charles Mok. “We have to use all means to express our strongest discontent to the government.”
The pro-Beijing camp has 40 members in the Legislative Council including the President Andrew Leung – more than the required quorum of 35.
Starry Lee, leader of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, blamed the democrats for the premature adjournment.
“It was the opposition camp members, who continuously asked for headcounts, who were absent – who aimed at creating the adjournment,” she said. “I hope the public can see clearly who is responsible – it shows why we proposed changing the Rules of Procedure.”
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo had tabled a motion to censure pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho.
Asked if the adjournment was coordinated to bypass the censure motion, the convener of the pro-Beijing camp Martin Liao denied there were any plans to do so.
Andrew Leung said the debate on the joint checkpoint arrangement next week will proceed according to the agenda, since government motions have priority.
The proposal will involve “leasing” land to China and effectively giving up Hong Kong jurisdiction across a quarter of the new West Kowloon express rail terminus for faster immigration procedures performed by mainland law enforcement agents. It has been heavily criticised by pro-democracy activists, who say that it is a violation of Basic Law.
The pro-Beijing camp has suggested amendments to the Committee on Rules of Procedure to curb filibustering. Unless the by-elections next March return more seats to the democrats, they will be unable to stop any amendments following the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers
However, democrats on Wednesday proposed 34 of their own amendments to the rules directly to the LegCo secretariat for the general meeting, bypassing the Committee. The rules do not ban the direct submission of amendments to the LegCo general meeting, although there is no precedent.
Liao criticised the democrats as disrespecting the usual practice: “The opposition lawmakers have been asking all lawmakers to act in accordance with the rules, but to achieve their political goal this time, they bypassed the Committee on Rules of Procedure to propose controversial suggestions, clearly violating the mechanism of the Committee,” he said.
Paul Tse, chair of the Committee, had said some proposed changes involved the use of public funds, which cannot be raised by lawmakers without the approval of the chief executive. He said LegCo president could reject such suggestions.
The president has yet to give his view on the democrats’ suggestions.
Mok said the camp will continuously review its strategies, and said he hoped the president will not try to find excuses to ban their suggestions.