Legislative Council President Andrew Leung has defended his decision to set an upper limit of 36 hours for the final debate on the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for the upcoming high-speed rail link. He also scrapped the majority of amendments submitted by democrats.
Pro-democracy lawmakers said that the limit was unprecedented and the 36 hours will be used up within two weeks. The bill will then likely pass with the support of the pro-Beijing camp.
The democrats submitted 75 amendments, but Leung only approved debate on 24. They wrote to Leung on Tuesday saying the bill was unconstitutional and Leung was harming the “One Country, Two Systems” principle which guarantees the city’s autonomy.
Hong Kong is set to effectively give up its jurisdiction across a quarter of the West Kowloon terminus, where immigration and customs procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents. Critics say the city is ceding land to China.
In a response to democrats on Wednesday, Leung said there was a long established practice in accordance with the legislature’s rules that the president makes final decisions on amendments.
Leung said it was not within the president’s power to determine whether the bill submitted by the government violated the Basic Law, and lawmakers can use their constitutional power to amend or reject the bill.
Article 11 of the Basic Law stipulates that no law enacted by the legislature shall contravene the Basic Law.
In relation to the deadline, Leung said the bill was urgent and the president had a responsibility to make sure the legislature completes the debate in a reasonable timeframe.
Charles Mok, the pro-democracy camp’s convener, quoted the Hong Kong Bar Association as saying the bill was unconstitutional, and Leung should understand the nature of the controversy.
“Instead, he used a creative way to unprecedentedly limit the debate,” Mok said. “This is not acceptable.”
Mok said the bill was not urgent as there will still be a lot of time before the legislature’s summer recess in mid-July. “The rail link is not going to operate on July 1 anyway,” he said.
He said the democrats will use all opportunities to speak during the debate.
Kowloon’s Express Rail Link station is set to open in September 2018.