Pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu has employed yet another rare tactic to stall a debate on the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement, by requesting that media and the public leave the Legislative Council.
Most democrats had spoken during the non-binding motion debate by Thursday, using almost all available methods to continue their filibuster against the government.
However, Chu cited the Rules of Procedure 88(1), which states that a lawmaker can – without prior notice – request that members of the press and public withdraw from the LegCo.
After suspending the meeting for around ten minutes, the LegCo President Andrew Leung said he had to allow Chu to speak. As Chu began explaining his motion, Leung suspended the meeting for another ten minutes, saying he had to look into whether Chu’s motive was “impure,” since he did not explain why he had proposed the motion.
After the meeting was resumed, Leung stopped Chu from speaking, but allowed the debate on requesting media and public to leave.
Although the joint checkpoint motion would be non-binding, the government is seeking the legislature’s permission to start a three-step procedure to approve for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link border mechanism. Pro-democracy groups and scholars have raised concerns over what they call a ceding of territory to China and potential violations of the Basic Law. Part of the station in West Kowloon – set to open next year – will be considered part of the mainland under the agreement.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Gary Chan, a convener for the camp, said Chu’s move was a “hideous” attempt to stall the meeting.
He said it may be akin to another effort by Chu last week to postpone the debate for a day. At the time, Chu raised an unusual motion to suggest that the LegCo should not move a banking bill debate to its internal committees and should – instead – complete the debate in one meeting.
Pro-democracy lawmakers voted down the motion in response, but it was effective in delaying the debate.
“[Pro-democracy lawmakers] may not agree with Chu’s motion, but they must have been some collusion with each other to stall the debate,” Chan said.
Pro-democracy camp convener Charles Mok said the camp indeed reached a “basic consensus” in using the rule.
Chu said the pro-democracy camp will use all means to defend the Legislative Council. He said his move was, in fact, inspired by the pro-Beijing camp’s suggestions to amend the Rules of Procedures. The camp proposed amending all rules that did not require prior notice, handing the power to approve motions to the LegCo president.
“This is a calling for me [to use it],” he said.
But Chu said he did not agree with rule 88(1) itself, and it should be abolished to protect press freedom: “This will likely be the first time and the last time for using it,” he said.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Luk called Chu’s motion “crazy.”
“They would even break their principle of openness… to delay the meeting,” Luk said.
The pro-Beijing camp said the incident provided another proof that the Rules of Procedures must be amended to avoid abuses.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said Chu’s motion was “totally unbelievable and unacceptable” and the move had never been used before: “I cannot imagine members of the public and the media being asked to leave… Some lawmakers are abusing the Rules of Procedures. It must be condemned.”