Legislative Council President Andrew Leung was forced to suspend a meeting on Thursday as the pro-democracy camp protested inside the chamber against the changing of the legislature’s rules.

The debate on the changes to the Rules of Procedure – proposed mainly by the pro-Beijing camp to curb filibustering by democrats – started at around 11am. But the democrats argued with Leung for an hour by continuously standing up to make requests, including appeals for more speaking time during the debate.

Leung decided that the debate on the 49 amendments – which were submitted by the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps in the form of 12 resolutions – will be conducted in a combined debate. Each lawmaker has only 15 minutes to speak on the suggestions.

Andrew Leung; Pro-democracy camp lawmakers protesting.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To said lawmakers would have used up their allotted 15 minutes shortly after reading the title of the amendments: “Do you even have common sense? Is 15 minutes enough? If you allow this, it will harm the public confidence in the LegCo.”

But Leung said his ruling was in line with the rules, the Basic Law and past practice, so it was final and not debatable.

“If the debates are handled separately, with the unlimited power [in speaking] of lawmakers, then all these items cannot be finished within this term.”

The pro-democracy camp does not have enough votes to block any amendments after six of its democratically-elected lawmakers were disqualified by a court following government legal action.

As Leung spoke, a pro-democracy lawmaker shouted at him: “Shame on Andrew Leung for being a biased referee!”

Leung later said: “I am spending time now to explain, but – in fact – I do not have to give explanations.”

As democrats claimed he was violating the rules, Leung said his decisions required the approval of the LegCo secretariat, thus he could not break the rules as he wished.

Pro-democracy lawmakers. Photo: In-Media.

Pro-Beijing Paul Tse started reading out the content of his resolution to fix a typo in the house rules on behalf of the Committee on Rules of Procedure. However, the pro-democracy camp all stood up holding placards and chanted: “Today the rules are changed, tomorrow Article 23 [the national security law] will be legislated.”

If the rules are changed, the democrats will have fewer tools to delay the legislation of the controversial law. However, since it will be a government bill, it is likely they will already have enough votes to pass it with the support of the pro-Beijing camp.

Andrew Leung then suspended the meeting at around noon. The meeting resumed at 2:45pm, after the pro-Beijing camp refused suggestions by the pro-democracy camp to allow more time for debate, in a closed-door meeting directed by the president.

Leung had suggested on Wednesday to hold three extra meetings next week to handle the changes before the Christmas break.

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.