The former president of the Legislative Council Andrew Wong has said that the chief executive should step in and urge the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camp to end their fight over changes to the house rules.
On Monday, incumbent LegCo President Andrew Leung decided to host four additional meetings on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and next Monday so that the changes to the legislature’s rules can be handled before the Christmas holidays. Wong said both camps had “gone too far,” calling the situation “very ugly.”
“Both sides should stop, but there is no retreat [for them], and there is no retreat for the president,” he said. “The chief executive should ask them to stop fighting.”
Wong made his remarks after attending a lunch at the LegCo hosted for former lawmakers. The reforms were mostly proposed by the pro-Beijing camp to curb filibustering by the democrats. The pro-democracy camp does not have enough votes to block such amendments after six of its democratically-elected lawmakers were disqualified by a court following government legal action.
Wong said he disagreed with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who said the rules should be updated: “I believe it is still up to date. The rules should not change all the time, just like the Basic Law should not change all the time, otherwise the public will not be certain about the law.”
He said lawmakers must be very careful in changing the rules, and only after reaching a consensus following a long discussion. For instance, he said the most significant amendment was in 1996 when the Rules of Procedure were translated into Chinese from English. The process took a year.
He said the president already has adequate power via the Rules of Procedure to reject meaningless motions and amendments: “The more rules you write, the less power the president has… If the rules are too strict, the president will not have the power to make decisions in certain situations.”
Basic Law violation
One of the most controversial amendments raised by the pro-Beijing camp would reduce the quorum needed for the “Committee of the whole council” stage of proceedings from 35 to 20.
Lawmakers can raise unlimited amendments and speak repeatedly during this stage, hence it has been used as a tool for filibustering over the years. The stage is held in the main chamber after the second reading of bills. If the quorum is reduced, it is unlikely democrats will be able to call for headcounts to prolong proceedings, since the pro-Beijing camp has 40 members.
The Basic Law stipulates that the quorum for the weekly general meeting of the Legislative Council shall be no less than one half of all its members. But LegCo President Andrew Leung has nevertheless allowed a debate on the proposal.
Wong said he believed the change is a violation to the Basic Law, since the stage is part of the legislative process of the general meeting: “Even if it’s not a violation, it is worthwhile to discuss it thoroughly.”
He said a quorum is not a “sacred” item, as the UK House of Commons does not need a quorum during meetings, only during voting sessions.
Another proposed change from the pro-Beijing camp – unrelated to filibustering – was to raise the number of lawmakers needed to request the formation of an investigative committee from 20 to 35. The reform would effectively block any such request from the pro-democracy camp.
Wong said the committee formation mechanism may help members of the public who have suffered an injustice be heard with the support of a minority of lawmakers: “There should be a thorough consideration of how this system should evolve.”
He also said some rules should be removed, such as the one that allows for the removal of the press and public from the chamber.
Meanwhile, Leung has rejected the pro-democracy camp’s proposal to raise 97 motions – an effort to insert items into the legislative agenda before the house rules debate.
The democrats cited rule 91 which states that certain rules can be suspended with the consent of the president. Leung said that many pro-Beijing camp voiced objections to the motions and there was no consensus. The camp enjoys a majority in the council chamber.
Leung added that, if he approved the motions, it would take 970 hours to handle – more than the 520 hours of debate time that the LegCo normally has in a year.
Members of the pro-democracy camp will camp outside the LegCo starting from Monday night in protest of the proposed rule changes.