The first meeting at Hong Kong’s legislature to discuss the details of an extradition law amendment came to nothing on Wednesday after pro-democracy lawmakers spent two hours raising procedural issues.
Democrats have previously expressed discontent with the bill and the way it was brought to the Legislative Council. Camp convenor Claudia Mo questioned whether it was appropriate for the bills committee to be formed within three days, asking, “why was there such a rush?”
The Wednesday meeting ended with neither the chairperson nor the vice-chairperson of the committee elected, and pro-Beijing lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung expelled over an insult.
The meeting was formed to discuss the government’s proposal to amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws to allow for case-by-case transfers of suspects to jurisdictions without prior agreement.
As the most senior lawmaker present, James To of the Democratic Party was tasked with presiding over the initial stretch of the meeting until a formal chairperson and vice-chair were elected.
Mo said she was dissatisfied with the meeting’s arrangement, since the deadline for signing up to the committee was only set for Monday. Democrat Ray Chan also said that To should allow a discussion on the way the meeting was arranged.
However, Starry Lee from the pro-Beijing DAB party said that To should not deal with the substantive issues of the committee.
To decided to let lawmakers vote and speak on whether he was authorised to handle Mo’s complaint – a move met with derision and protest from the pro-Beijing lawmakers in the room.
“Don’t pretend to be trash, you should keep some dignity,” Kwok said, which To said he took to be an insult against him. Kwok was expelled shortly afterwards.
“You are disrespecting yourself,” Kwok said as he walked out of the chamber.
After consulting with the legislature’s legal consultants and a half-hour adjournment, To said he believed he was authorised to deal with Mo’s complaint. This meant that the meeting could not continue and the election of the committee’s leadership would be postponed.
House rules under debate
Pro-Beijing lawmakers came out in force after the meeting, saying that the democrats played dirty and were trying to stall for time. They also said they would push for further amendments to the Rules of Procedure – the set of house rules that govern Legislative Council meetings.
“[James To] wasn’t presiding over the meeting at all, he was just playing tricks and filibustering,” said lawmaker Regina Ip from the New People’s Party.
Kwok added that he would ask to limit the responsibilities of the presiding LegCo member and to change the way they were selected.
In December 2017, the legislature was rocked by a controversial rules change that stripped powers from lawmakers and made filibustering more difficult. Since then, pro-Beijing lawmakers – who have a majority in the legislature – have raised the possibility of further tightening the rules.
In response, Claudia Mo said she had become “numb” by her opponent’s suggestion of a rules change: “The committee [meeting] clashed with a regular Wednesday meeting of the Public Works Subcommittee… This arrangement, which was rushed and [had a schedule clash], may become a precedent in the legislature if nobody complains,” she said.
The bills committee for the extradition law update was originally expected for next week, but was brought forward at short notice with the agreement of the pro-Beijing camp.
Secretary for Security John Lee – who was originally meant to speak at the meeting – said it was “regrettable” that the committee did not elect its chairperson and vice-chair after two hours, and he felt “disappointed and anxious.”
“No matter whether there are different opinions, they should be discussed at the legislature’s bills committee, through rational dialogue,” Lee added.
He also dismissed the democrat’s last-minute counterproposal of a “sunset clause,” saying it was ineffective. Days ago, pro-democracy lawmakers once again floated the idea of a dedicated extradition arrangement with Taiwan with a built-in expiration date.
Lee said a sunset clause would result in repetitive procedures: “As we can see, [lawmakers] can’t even elect a committee chairperson after two hours. Isn’t it a very ineffective way to deal with possible serious crimes in the future?”
Around the start of the meeting at 8:45am, two groups of opposing protesters clashed briefly at the demonstration area outside the legislature.
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