The debate in Hong Kong’s legislature over the government’s extradition law proposal has been postponed following a clash between lawmakers.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has asked lawmakers to finish vetting the bill before July, but democrats have condemned the administration as trying to unfairly rush the process.

After an abortive meeting to discuss the proposal on Wednesday, Democratic Party lawmaker James To – who was temporarily in charge of the bills committee – decided that the process would resume on April 30.

James To
James To presiding over the bills committee meeting for the extradition law update. Photo:

The bill to amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws was originally meant to be discussed on Wednesday morning, but the two-hour meeting ended without a chairperson or vice-chairperson being elected to head the committee.

As the most senior lawmaker present, To was tasked with presiding over the meeting until the committee’s formal leadership was elected. His opponents from the pro-Beijing camp accused him of filibustering, but To said he acted within the house rules.

“I believe my decision is correct, it follows [LegCo’s] standing orders and can withstand any legal challenge,” To told reporters afterwards.

During the meeting, pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo said the committee should first explore whether the government had broken the rules by moving the legislative schedule forward.

Kwok Wai-keung
Kwok Wai-keung. File photo:

Lawmakers clashed over whether To was authorised to deal with the substantive issues of the committee, resulting in FTU lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung being expelled from the chamber over a perceived insult.

In the meantime, the legislature’s Secretariat said that it was up to To to decide when the committee would meet next. Lawmaker Paul Tse had reportedly garnered the support of the pro-Beijing camp to head the committee, meaning that the committee will likely be out of the democrats’ control once the chairperson election was complete.

Meeting suspension

Later on Wednesday, the weekly Legislative Council meeting was temporarily suspended after failing to reach a quorum. Lawmakers were planning to continue with the second reading of the appropriation bill – the bill to approve the government’s annual budget.

pro-beijing lawmakers
Pro-Beijing lawmakers condemn James To. Photo:

Democrats took advantage of several key absences of pro-Beijing lawmakers and requested multiple rounds of head counts.

“This meeting suspension is an extension of the work we did this morning to oppose the extradition law update,” Mo said.

If the pro-Beijing camp really wanted to push through the extradition bill, they need to make sure they have enough lawmakers in their seats, added People Power lawmaker Ray Chan.

It was the first such suspension since December 2017, when a set of controversial rule changes to the legislature was passed to make filibustering more difficult.

Lawmaker Felix Chung, leader of the pro-Beijing Liberal Party, said it was “obvious” that the democrats were stalling for time.

Andrew Leung
Andrew Leung. Photo: LegCo.

About an hour after the suspension, Legislative Council President Andrew Leung abruptly announced that he would resume the meeting at 6:30pm.

“I believe there is an urgency to continue the meeting… I’ve assessed that there will be enough lawmakers to meet the quorum,” Leung told reporters. “I hope lawmakers will make good use of meeting time.”

Discussions over the appropriation bill continued on Wednesday evening and Thursday.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.