Democratic Party veteran lawmaker James To has accused Chief Executive Carrie Lam of wishing to turn the legislature into a rubber stamping body in light of her support of rule amendments.

Lam said in an interview that the rules at the Legislative Council were outdated and incompatible with the current governing model. She said proposed amendments to the rules were not targeting the opposition camp, if they lead to the smoother operation of the legislature.

The amendments, raised by the pro-Beijing camp, included one that proposed increasing the number of lawmakers required to form an investigative committee by standing petition from 20 to 35. The move would effectively bar any application from the pro-democracy camp.

James To Kun-sun. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

To said that – without the rule to form investigative committees – several investigations would not have happened, including the one probing former anti-graft agency chief Timothy Tong, and another one looking into pro-Beijing lawmaker Holden Chow’s alleged collusion with former leader Leung Chun-ying.

“This is stripping power from lawmakers, when a substantial amount of them request to form committees to monitor the government, or any incidents of massive public interest,” he said.

To cited pro-Beijing former LegCo president Jasper Tsang as saying that democrats have a right to block and delay government bills under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.

“If Carrie Lam works with the pro-Beijing camp to amend the rules for efficiency in governance, this is scrapping ‘One Country, Two Systems’ – this is turning the LegCo into the National People’s Congress.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File photo: GovHK.

The pro-democracy camp has never won more than 30 seats in the 70-seat chamber. Meanwhile, the pro-Beijing camp has always maintained more than 35 seats, as the indirectly elected 35-seat functional constituencies often return members from the camp.

Previously, six pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified by a court over the controversial ways they took their oaths of office, following Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law.

Targeting democrats

“Under this undemocratic system of functional constituencies, even whilst we won more than half of the directly elected seats, we still only have some 20 people in the LegCo,” To said. “If the requirement for standing petitions is increased from 20 to 35 – this is targeting the pro-democracy camp.”

Functional constituencies consist of professional or special interest groups. Thirty of the 70 seats in the legislative council are elected by Hong Kong’s 28 functional constituencies, with another five from the District Council (Second) functional constituency.

Legislative Council chamber. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

To added that the public should monitor whether the government will take advantage of the vacancies and move government bills lower down in the legislative agenda, to allow the pro-Beijing camp to amend the chamber’s rules.

Meanwhile, Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok said the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camp will form an eight-member group – each with four members – to discussion potential changes to the rules, in order to reach a consensus.

The two camps have been in a tit-for-tat war in proposing changes whilst the pro-democracy camp has engaged in creative efforts to filibuster controversial bills.

Starry Lee, leader of the pro-Beijing DAB party, said it was better to sit down and talk, but added that it would be difficult to reach any agreement.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.