Hong Kong’s legislature head has said he may limit time on debates in future meetings in view of filibustering as democrats slammed the move as paving the way for controversial law amendments.

Legislative Council (LegCo) President Andrew Leung issued a letter to all lawmakers on Wednesday saying some had unnecessarily delayed meetings and the passage of government bills.

Andrew Leung
Andrew Leung. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

He said since the start of the interim legislature on October 14, lawmakers had only dealt with either government bills from previous sessions or technical, insignificant and uncontroversial amendments. Roll calls and adjournments due to insufficient quorum have consumed time, he wrote, adding some legislators had merely repeated colleagues’ comments.

Leung also noted he wielded the power to set time limits on or terminate debates: “As the LegCo president, I have the responsibility to exercise the power to preside meetings in accordance with Article 72 (1) of the Basic Law and ensure that LegCo affairs are orderly, effectively and fairly handled,” he wrote. “It includes the necessity to exercise power and regulation over the process of meetings.”

The president also wrote “to enact, amend or repeal laws in accordance with the provisions of this Law and legal procedures” is a function of the legislature, not individual lawmakers, under Article 73 of the Basic Law. He stressed their constitutional rights do not include filibustering.

Hands ‘tied’

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo slammed the letter as enabling the smooth passage of a controversial bill allowing Hongkongers in mainland China to vote in upcoming elections.

“He probably thought there’s not much we could do except giving him the stink eye. He knew the democrats’ hands are tied. There is this provision in the national security law that says it’s a crime to obstruct government operations, [or] something to that effect,” Mo told HKFP on Thursday.

Claudia Mo
Claudia Mo. File photo: inmediahk.net, via CC 2.0

During a meeting last Thursday, pro-Beijing lawmaker Alice Mak called for an inquiry into whether filibustering at LegCo contravenes the newly-enacted security law. The Beijing-drafted legislation criminalises interference in, disruption or undermining the performance of duties and functions under the offence of subversion.

In June, Beijing enacted laws to prevent, stop and punish behaviour in Hong Kong that it deemed a threat to national security. The legislation was inserted into the city’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism, broadly defined to include interference in transportation and other infrastructure. The move, which gave police sweeping new powers, alarmed democrats and civil society groups, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.