Hong Kong’s establishment-dominated legislature has passed a bill to prevent filibustering, a tactic frequently used in the past by pro-democracy members to block proceedings. The new rules will also penalise absent lawmakers if a meeting is adjourned for lack of a quorum.

The amendments to the Legislative Council (LegCo) Rules of Procedures will also require members to attend full meetings in business attire, with bans on sportswear and jeans.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse, a member of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, presented the amendments on Wednesday. Under the new rules lawmakers will be fined a day’s salary — HK$3,300 — if they are absent without a valid reason from a meeting that was adjourned due to the lack of a quorum.

Pro-democracy lawmakers — who occupied 30 of LegCo’s 70 seats before they resigned en masse in protest at the disqualification of fellow members at Beijing’s instigation last year — routinely used procedural tactics to filibuster.

In a protest against the government’s decision to delay the next LegCo election, democrats either created a situation in which the legislature lacked a quorum or constantly interrupted sessions by requesting a count of members as a point of order.

As a result, LegCo sessions were adjourned three times in three consecutive weeks in October-November last year.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin wears a Chinese President Xi Jinping mask in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Complex during Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s 2019 Policy Address on October 16. File Photo: inmediahk.net BY CC 2.0.

To prevent filibustering, the new rules will allow a council president to ban lawmakers from raising a point of order, if it is deemed to be an abuse of procedure.

Following the mass resignation by pan-democrats, LegCo now has only two members not aligned with the government camp. Beijing has also imposed a sweeping political overhaul which will sharply reduce the number of directly elected seats in the next legislature.

Candidates will also face tough screening to ensure that only “patriots” govern the city, a move which critics say is designed to block democratic hopefuls.

As the next legislature will see an increase to 90 members following the electoral overhaul, the number of lawmakers signed up to committees will be capped at 20, and at 15 for the bills committee. Each lawmaker may serve on a maximum six committees.

Dress code: business only

A new dress code applicable to full council meetings but not committee sessions will ban clothes displaying slogans, logos or commercial advertising, casual or sports wear, jeans, hats, flip-flops and sneakers.

“I hope that order can be resumed and LegCo can be more dignified as it receives more support from Hongkongers,” Tse said.

Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

Civic Passion chair Cheng Chung-tai, one of the two remaining non-establishment lawmakers, objected to the bill. “Whether a legislature is good does not only depend on its efficiency. If you want a legislature to be efficient, strictly speaking it will be most efficient to combine it with the government,” Cheng said.

An expanded LegCo with more restricted powers should do more to enable minority voices to be heard, he said.

Cheng also said a cap on the number of committees on which lawmakers could serve on would “exacerbate class divisions” among lawmakers, since independent lawmakers would not be able to serve on more than six committees whereas political parties with multiple lawmakers could serve on a larger number.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.