Starry Lee, who heads the pro-Beijing party which is the largest in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), was overwhelmingly re-elected on Friday as chair of its powerful House Committee. Lee took the reins despite abstentions and objections from democrats and attempts to slow down the vote.

The vote for the leader of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) was in stark contrast to the last election for the post in May, when chaos broke out as legislators fought for control of the floor amid a row over who was the rightful leader of the committee.

Starry Lee Wai-king. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The House Committee decides the legislative agenda and is responsible for setting up committees that scrutinise each proposed bill in detail.

Incumbent chair Lee and vice-chair Ma Fung-kwok took their seats more than half an hour before the start of the meeting at 2:30 pm, a practice inherited from the days when democrats tried to prevent the pair from occupying their chairs.

The meeting began with the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions legislator Michael Luk nominating Lee, seconded by pro-Beijing heavyweight Regina Ip.

Pan-democrat members, who are in a minority in LegCo, then nominated almost all lawmakers in the meeting room to try to obstruct proceedings.

The Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting started by nominating firebrand Beijing-loyalist Junius Ho, who was seconded by Lam’s party colleague Wu Chi-wai. Ho declined while labelling Lam a “low-level ICAC investigator,” a reference to the pro-democracy politician’s previous position at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Lam objected to the remark, saying it was a “derision of his rank” at the agency, but pro-Beijing lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who presided over the election, dismissed his complaint. This led democrats to blast the vice-chair as a “low-level” politician presiding over the ballot.

Democratic Party’s Wu Chi-wai speaking at the legislature on October 9, 2020. Photo: Inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0.

The Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung, Jeremy Tam and Kwok Ka-ki, the Democratic Party’s Ted Hui, Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai, the accounting constituency’s Kenneth Leung, the education constituency’s Ip Kin-yuen, and pro-democracy lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung accepted the nominations. Democrat Claudia Mo accepted then withdrew hers.

DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat declared that all members of her party would refuse nominations.

At around 3:35 pm, the vice-chair declared the nomination period closed, saying legislators had wasted much of the two hours allotted for the vote.

One ballot had “unjust” scrawled on it and another had “SAVE12,” a reference to a group of Hong Kong fugitives detained in mainland China while trying to flee to Taiwan by speedboat.

Lee secured 39 votes while Leung Yiu-chung and Alvin Yeung nabbed one each. Ma was also re-elected as vice chair, winning a majority of 32 votes while Hui, Yeung, Kenneth Leung and the health services sector’s Joseph Lee secured one each.

The embattled pro-democracy camp has seen the recent departure of two of its members – Eddie Chu and the People Power’s Ray Chan – after Beijing extended the council’s term by at least another year, following Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s postponement of the 2020 legislative election

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.