Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on Thursday approved new rules allowing “grossly disorderly” members to be suspended from meetings for at least a week, even though the chamber is almost entirely composed of pro-government lawmakers after the opposition quit.
The amendments to the Rules of Procedures were passed with just one dissenting vote, from Civic Passion chairperson Cheng Chung-tai, who questioned the need for them.
Cheng is one of only two independents in the chamber since all 15 opposition members quit last November in sympathy with four colleagues who had been disqualified by the government.
In addition, China’s legislature known as the National People’s Congress plans sweeping changes to LegCo to ensure only “patriots” can stand for office. Critics say the changes will make it impossible for pan-democrats even to secure nomination.
“I don’t understand the actual impact that the amendment is trying to make, since there is the National People’s Congress’ (NPC) decision,” Cheng told the meeting. “LegCo will have a vetting committee to filter [legislators] in the future.”
“If there is still someone who can achieve things considered to be in violation of the rules and has to be sent away, I’m sceptical whether the threshold of patriots is not too serious,” Cheng said.
Under the amended rules the president of LegCo has the power to name members over their “grossly disorderly” conduct. Once named, a motion will be put forward to decide whether the lawmaker in question should be suspended.
If passed, the legislator will face a week’s suspension from council meetings on the first occasion, and two weeks on the second occasion. From the third offence onwards, a lawmaker will face suspension for twice the length of time on the previous occasion.
Previously, LegCo presidents had the power to expel legislators from a particular meeting, but not from subsequent ones.
Many pro-establishment lawmakers welcomed the amendments. Starry Lee, chairperson of the DAB, said the change was needed to fill a loophole in the Rules of Procedures.
“Currently, disruptive councillors will only be sent out…,” said Lee. “This time, we have filled the void.”
The LegCo president will also have new powers to set a time limit of no more than four hours for debates on most bills. Chairpersons of LegCo committees can also continue exercising their powers before new chairpersons are elected.